He’s already a star of folk music, stage and film, and now the actor is bringing a blond – and nude – Mr Knightley to cinemas in a new take on Emma
Being a fictional hero was once a more straightforward business. You were handsome, you were honourable and brave: you were in. Colin Firth only had to dampen his white shirt a little to update Jane Austen’s most famous romantic lead, Mr Darcy, in the hit 1995 television adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.
But changing times call for a fresh approach. And so the portrayal of Mr Knightley, hero of the latest big-screen version of Austen’s Emma, has been the subject of much speculation ahead of the film’s opening on 14 February.
Johnny Flynn, actor, musician and renaissance man, has the tricky job of measuring up to every Austen fan’s dreams of George Knightley, the wise and kindly figure who has always rivalled the more austere Darcy in readers’ affections.
Newspaper headlines so far have inevitably focused on a scene in which Flynn appears nude. “Move over Mr Darcy!” cried the Daily Mail.
If Flynn, who will also appear on screen this year as David Bowie
in Stardust, as well as in British film The Dig, already looks familiar, it is because of his recent role in the BBC serialisation of Les Misérables, or as the dependable William Dobbin in ITV’s Vanity Fair. Yet the actor, 36, says he knew from the start that he had to handle Knightley with especial care. Quite apart from the line in the novel where his character admits to having loved Emma Woodhouse, 16 years his junior, since she was 13 years old, Knightley also does a fair amount of moral lecturing. Something the director, Autumn de Wilde, admits can read today like “mansplaining”.Continue reading