How HBO’s Succession Ruined 2005’s Pride and Prejudice

Matthew MacFadyen who plays Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice is a victim of his own brilliance as Tom Wambsgans in Succession.

Matthew MacFadyen as Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice
Matthew MacFadyen as Mr Darcy but still total Tom Wambsgans Photo: Focus Features

Anyone still giddy on fumes having devoured the whole of sexy, sexy Bridgerton, might well be looking for more love machinations, posh dresses and ladies attending dances. You may well be tempted then by 2005’s Pride and Prejudice which is available to stream on Netflix. After all, this is one of the starriest and most lavish period productions around, packed with stone cold talent. The Bennet family alone boasts Carey Mulligan, Rosamund Pike, Jenna Malone, Brenda Blethyn and Donald Sutherland as well as the movie’s star Keira Knightley. It’s directed by Joe Wright who knows his onions when it comes to period movies after Anna Karenina, Atonement and The Darkest Hour. And it goes without saying that Austen’s text is a classic romantic tome which is always a joy. Get involved!

But not if you’ve watched Succession. After that masterpiece of TV, Matthew MacFadyen’s Mr Darcy is officially ruined. HBO’s dark drama about the despicable media magnate Logan Roy (Brian Cox) and the damaged children he has raised who routinely stab each other in the back is terrifically entertaining television, and everyone in it is brilliant, including Matthew MacFadyen who plays Tom Wambsgans, boyfriend and latterly husband, to Shiv Roy (Sarah Snook), an awful person who demands they have an open relationship on their wedding night. Shiv may be entirely amoral but you can’t help but love her (kind of). After all, the whole family is terrible. But Tom is a special kind of terrible and it’s an absolute credit to MacFadyen’s performance. His Tom is aggressively, charmlessly awful. He is not just morally corrupt but his whole personality is repulsive. Tom is an outsider, treated with casual, but barely disguised, disdain by the Roy family. We should pity him. But Tom is so deeply unlikeable. He exploits the Roys for all he can get, feels no shame in working for a father-in-law who hates him as long as he gets to live the wealthy lifestyle. Tom is a bully himself, terrorising and harassing Greg (Nicholas Braun), the young cousin of the Roys, who himself is quickly corrupted, largely due to Tom, and of course money. Tom is disgusting. He is the kind of man who actively seeks out oral sex from a stranger on his stag do (there’s an extra gross here too, but we wont spoil…). He barely seems to have any friends. The closest Tom seems to have to a friend is Greg, who he manipulates horribly. The night out the two of them have is some of the most outrageous depictions of decadence since The Great Gatsby. MacFadyen is excellent. But maybe he’s too excellent. 

Re-watching Wright’s Pride and Prejudice, we can’t look at Darcy without having flashbacks of Wambsgans stuffing a whole rare bird into his mouth hidden by a handkerchief. Though Darcy is dour and difficult while Tom is sycophantic and sleazy, it’s too much of a leap to actually find him charismatic in any way. 

When Darcy tells Elizabeth Bennet (Knightley) “My good opinion, once lost, is lost forever” it’s like – yeah, no kidding! The taint of the Wambsgans can’t be shaken that easily.

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He’s not the first person to be a victim of their own success. Anthony Perkins is going to be forever remembered as Norman Bates from Psycho and not as the heartthrob he was before. Jack Gleeson who played Joffrey in Game of Thrones has stepped away from acting but we can’t imagine the youngster who played a notoriously hateful character would have made an easy transition to hero roles. Tom Felton (a very nice chap) isn’t getting a lot of nice guy leads, either, last time we looked.

This is not necessarily a bad move for MacFadyen – we most recently saw him play infamous Who Wants to be a Millionaire? cheat Major Charles Ingram in the miniseries Quiz. He was great.

It doesn’t help that for many the definitive Darcy is Colin Firth in the BBC miniseries from 1995 – a role Firth absolutely doubled down on by playing Mark Darcy in three Bridget Jones movies and made a direct homage to in St. Trinian’s. He’s got the Darcy brand sewn up.

Wright’s movie is still lavish and lovely and a much needed hit of nostalgia in these dark days but Succession fans – don’t expect to fall in love with Darcy, the Wambsgans power is just too strong.