In June 1959, something of a female-friendly phenomenon began. About a year later, on September ninth and tenth of 1960, it grew. It expanded again in the fall of 1968, then one more time in the summer of ‘75; and has resonated deeply with millions of women the world over ever since. No, it wasn’t the arrival of the Pill, the nascent stirring of the women’s movement, or Jane Fonda’s haircut in Klute. Not one of those things has had as much of an impact on us as a little something I like to call “Four Hughs and a Colin.”
Don’t believe me? Ask the woman sitting right next to you if she can identify these (three or) four Hughs and a Colin by first and last name. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
At 34, Hugh Dancy is the youngest of the bunch, and possibly the most delightful. He’s adorable—there’s just no other word for him. He exudes a boyishness that just won’t quit, and a certain vulnerability women find alluring. And sure, I could’ve been his babysitter thirty years ago when he was four years old and I was … considerably older than four. But that age difference faded quickly as I watched him kick back with Helen Mirren. (He portrayed the Earl of Essex to her Elizabeth I.) Good for you, Helen! Could it get much better?
Well, yes, it could get about seven years better, in the person of one Hugh Jackman. This Hugh is the only one of the group who doesn’t have at least a peripheral Jane Austen connection on his resume and we’re all the poorer for it. (Although he wore his ‘cravat and vest’ look in The Prestige and in the surprisingly appealing Kate and Leopold.) But he offers us a consolation prize: he can sing. Anyone who can play a gay legend, (Peter Allen in The Boy from Oz) and an American cowboy (Curly in Oklahoma!), plus be married for almost 15 years (which is 45 in Hollywood years) can get his Austen creds some other time.
On the other end of the commitment spectrum, we find the third Hugh that makes life so much more enjoyable, Hugh Grant. The perfect combination of handsome gentleman, charming rogue and devilish heartbreaker, he will definitely leave you for someone else one day. Grant seems to present himself without apology and get away with it. Maybe it’s because he also presents his blue eyes, his posh accent, his great hair and his endearing self-deprecation. Rule: A man who can make fun of himself is a man almost any women can make out with.
Rounding out our foursome is the familiar and fabulous Hugh Laurie, known to many of us as Dr. Gregory House. Despite the American accent we hear every week in the hospital, Laurie has earned his Austen chops, playing Mr. Palmer in Sense and Sensibility. He was cranky yet inexplicably appealing. He played the cold, proper, tough guy you wanted to warm up, loosen up and cuddle up. Remember him in that scene? Opening his bedroom door in the middle of the night when Emma Thompson asked him to call a doctor? I knew you would.
Which brings us, finally and happily—in exactly the same way that finishing a very rich dessert makes you happy—to Colin Firth. The man, the legend, the only person on the planet who could so perfectly embody Mr. Darcy then (in the unparalleled Pride and Prejudice) and Mr. Darcy now (twice, in Bridget Jones movies) with complete aplomb. We loved hating him; we held out hope that we had every reason not to—and we were willing to wait. Mr. Darcy who emerged from a refreshing dip and strolled across his estate one afternoon before figuratively sweeping up Elizabeth is as satisfying as Mr. Darcy who strolled across the snowy town square before wrapping up Bridget in his coat and delivering the kisses we’d all waited hours to see.
So where does that leave us, some 50 years into this event, right in the midst of Academy Awards season? If you’re like many woman of a certain age, it leaves you satisfied. It leaves you comfortably growing just a little bit older right alongside men you’ve loved for nearly twenty years. It also leaves you believing in movie magic because it feels like you haven’t aged one day since you watched Charles run along South Bank Centre to catch up with Carrie. And that’s more than a phenomenon. That’s a miracle.
Renee A. James is a freelance writer who lives in Allentown, Pa. Her e-mail address is email@example.com and her blog is “It’s not me, it’s you,” found at http://reneeaj.blogspot.com