The Problem with Portrayals of Mr. Collins

Mr. Collins was not a sensible man, and the deficiency of nature had been but little assisted by education or society… Having now a good house and a very sufficient income… Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen

I really dislike the way most adaptations have presented Mr. Collins. It seems like they want to lean into the Gross Older Relation I Must Marry trope but that is NOT what is happening in the novel and I think it’s more significant to recognize the truth: Mr. Collins is not gross, ugly, or old! Elizabeth did not turn him down based on his appearance but because they were intellectually incompatible.

Probably the most famous portrayal of Mr. Collins was David Bamber from Pride & Prejudice 1995, who was 41 when he played the role:

His hair looked greasy and he was nearly twice Elizabeth’s age. For reference, here is what that actor looked like at 25:

Pride and Prejudice 2005 went with Tom Hollander, who was 38 at the time. They really played up his short stature as a negative, which is ironic since the book specifically says Mr. Collins is tall:

Lost in Austen (2008) was one of the worst offenders in age, with Guy Henry portraying a 48 year old Mr. Collins. He also leaned hard into being creepy:

Matt Smith played one of the better versions of Mr. Collins in Pride & Prejudice & Zombies in 2016 when he was 34 years old (still almost ten years too old!). His Mr. Collins was silly, as he is in the book, and they didn’t play into him being physically repulsive:

I thought Bride & Prejudice (2004) did a good job showing Mr. Collins as a safe choice. Nitin Ganatra was 37 when he played the modernized Mr. Kohli:

Another modernization, Lizzy Bennet Diaries, had Maxwell Glick as a 33 year old Mr. Collins:

The closest to the book is probably Pride & Prejudice 1980. This Mr. Collins, played by Malcolm Rennie, was very tall and definitely ridiculous, though he was still too old at 33:

The best portrayal of Mr. Collin’s formal manners was likely the 1940s movie, where instead of a clergyman, he was a librarian! Melville Cooper was 44 years old at the time:

The problem with all these adaptations is that Mr. Collins isn’t supposed to be either ugly, creepy, old, or gross. When it comes to his physical appearance, this is what we know: He was a tall, heavy-looking young man of five-and-twenty. His air was grave and stately, and his manners were very formal. Jane Austen usually tells us if a man is “plain”, so we can probably assume here that Mr. Collins is at least average looking. He’s also quite young, he’s only four years older than Elizabeth. Younger than Mr. Darcy!

Mr. Collins also doesn’t have any glaring red flags. He doesn’t gamble (or he wouldn’t go on about it at the party), we don’t see him get drunk (Uncle Phillips is the one breathing alcohol fumes), and he doesn’t seem violent/prone to outbursts of temper (he could have shown more anger when Lydia was rude while he was reading). Mr. Collins offers a good deal: domestic security, future wealth, and no danger. He is a safe choice, which when he’s played up as creepy doesn’t come through.

However, Elizabeth understands that without intellectual compatibility, she will be unhappy. She wants a husband she can respect. This is what makes her a heroine. By making Collins old, ugly, creepy, or kind of gross, the adaptations actually erase a lot of Elizabeth’s motivations and strength. The reaction to Collins becomes more visceral than intellectual, and that’s a problem. The idea is that Mr. Collins is fine, but he’s not right for Elizabeth.

What would you like to see in a new portrayal of Mr. Collins? Did I leave your favourite adaptation out? Let me know below:

25 responses to “The Problem with Portrayals of Mr. Collins”

  1. Amanda Kai Avatar
    Amanda Kai

    The Mr. Collins in the modern-day version Pride and Prejudice, a Latter-Day Comedy (2003) is fairly accurate to the book in his physical appearance, as he is tall, heavy, and around 25.

    I’ll admit, Tom Hollander (2005) is my favorite Mr. Collins, as I love his adorkable antics. Matt Smith was also a good Collins and super funny!

    1. bdelleman Avatar

      I have yet to see that version! I’ll have to check it out.

      I prefer Matt Smith myself, but Tom Hollander certainly had an impact meme wise, lol.

    2. Stephanie Sunser Avatar
      Stephanie Sunser

      But Amanda, we can agree that the LDS version of Collins while he fit the age and physical description his portrayal in that movie was 100% creepy right?

  2. Alice McVeigh Avatar

    I agree with every single solitary word of this. The adaptations – just as when they exaggerate Mrs Bennet into caricature or wantonly shove in pigs – are not respecting Austen. Elizabeth’s refusal of Collins is not only amusing – he IS dense, lol!!! – but would also be much more meaningful if he was ever portrayed as she visualised: a tall, heavy, OK-looking guy of 25 who could have saved Lizzy’s family from being kicked out of Longbourn.

    1. bdelleman Avatar

      Yes exactly! He’s okay! He’s fine! I could do a whole another post about Mrs. Bennet and how she should be played by someone much younger and hot…

  3. Barry Richman Avatar
    Barry Richman

    BD. I heartily agree with you and appreciate your wonderful analysis of how we all do Mr. Collins wrong, yours truly included. “Happiness in [depicting Mr. Collins] is entirely a matter of chance.” Or not. So, with your illuminating post pinned to my wall, I will endeavor in y sophomore effort to depict Mr. Collins as Tom Hollander did in 2005 but taller, more heavy-looking and definitely a young man of five-and-twenty, with a grave and stately air, his manners very formal. Oh what fun awaits us!

    1. bdelleman Avatar

      Maybe one cay we will get a proper portrayal of Mr. Collins!

      Thank you!

  4. Sarah Avatar

    I actually really like some of the modern Mr. Collinses, because even though they’re older, they’re the correct age for the heroines. In Bride and Prejudice, he might be 37, but he *looks* appropriately-aged for Lalita. The implication seems to be that he’s just old enough to have finished his education and get settled into his career as a doctor so he’s in a good position to take a wife–just about the same as Mr. Collins and his rectory at Hunsford. I think he’s also good-looking–maybe not a heartthrob, but if it weren’t for his ridiculousness, you could see how he’d be attractive. He *is* played as ridiculous, that much is true, rather than serious, though.

    In the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, the actor seems reasonably close to Lizzie’s in age (I can’t find out how old she is to be sure), and he’s supposed to be her peer (they were children together). And he’s also decent-looking. Not stunning handsome, but okay. He’s probably played the best in terms of being serious. He might come across as ridiculous, but his behavior is very serious in that he has a goal and he’s making it very clear, while using constant flattery about the Lady Catherine character and Elizabeth. I think he’s actually played about as a close as you’re going to get in a modern interpretation, really, in terms of seriousness and such.

    1. bdelleman Avatar

      I totally agree with you about the Bride & Prejudice Mr. Collins/Kholi. He is one of my favourite portrayals because I think they updated him really well for the movie. They seemed to really understand his character.

      I need to watch LBD again, I don’t remember a whole lot about that Mr. Collins. But it sounds like they did a good job.

  5. cindie snyder Avatar
    cindie snyder

    I have seen Tom Hollander and Mr Bamber. They both do a good turn as Mr Collins. I have not seen some of them to really pick a

    1. bdelleman Avatar

      There are a ton of adaptations of P&P, we are lucky that way!

  6. Bronwen Chisholm Avatar

    I completely agree with you and the other comments that were made. When watching a P&P adaptation, I wait eagerly for Mr. Collins’ arrival to see how they are going to treat him and am repeatedly disappointed. If Matt Smith had just been heavy set, he would probably have been the most accurate. (Yes, he was in his thirties, but he didn’t look it.) We can only hope that future casting directors will be more devoted to the book.

    1. bdelleman Avatar

      I hope so too. I think Matt Smith was very close, despite being an adaptation with zombies!

  7. Rose Avatar

    This is not a remark about the filmed versions of the good Reverend but about the many JAFF stories that paint him as someone who never takes a bath.
    Would Lady Catherine let him into Rosings if he would stink up the place?

    1. bdelleman Avatar

      Yes! I have encountered that quite a few times in JAFF. And you are right, there is no way Lady Catherine would want him around if he wasn’t clean. She even has him carving the meat at dinner.

  8. Naomi Avatar

    I agree with you. Of all of them I think the Bride and Prejudice version does the showing that there was really nothing wrong with Collins except that he wasn’t right for Elizabeth. Now I could go on and on about how they never get the Gardiners ages correct or Mrs. Bennett. There is no way a woman who thought it was fine to marry off a daughter at 15 waited until 20’s to marry. Jane is only 22 at the beginning of the book so to me it’s generous to say Mrs. Bennet was 40 at the start of the book and Mrs. Gardiner was married to her younger brother so I’ve always imagined her more 30.

    1. bdelleman Avatar

      I really agree with Bride & Prejudice. They did a really good job translating Mr. Collins into his modern counterpart.

      I would love to see a young, attractive Mrs. Bennet! My dream would be Kate Beckinsale, who did an amazing Lady Susan, because you are totally right! She’s probably only in her early 40s. And yes, Mrs. Gardiner is probably only in her 30s.

      I would also love to see a real teenager play Lydia.

  9. Victoria Kincaid Avatar
    Victoria Kincaid

    Everyone in every production of P&P is older than their characters so I wouldn’t lay this fault at the feet of any production. It’s rare that you see a young character played by an actor of the same age.

    I agree that Jane describes him as tall and he usually isn’t portrayed as tall. But she also describes him as heavy — which could mean you could cast an overweight actor in the role –certainly not increasing his attractiveness. “Plain” is not a compliment in Jane’s world.; it certainly could be a nice way of saying someone isn’t particularly attractive. Charlotte is described as plain, and she certainly isn’t shown as a great beauty in any P&P production.

    I disagree strongly that Collins doesn’t have any glaring red flags. Elizabeth and her father see through him immediately. Darcy can’t stand him from their first meeting. The first thing he does upon meeting Mrs. Phillips is insult her house. His conversation is obsequious and self-serving and incredibly boring. Lady C keeps him around because he agrees with everything she says no matter how outrageous. He is stupid to boot–too stupid to understand or correct his character flaws.

    If you read his proposal to Elizabeth, it is all about him. He doesn’t take her feelings into consideration at all (although he does talk at length about her small dowry). At the Pemberley Ball, she begs him not to embarrass the family by introducing himself to Darcy and he tells her that he knows better. This doesn’t bode well for Charlotte’s ability to persuade him toward her opinion in any matter. Not to mention that he tells the Bennets that Lydia would be better off dead than disgraced.

    He is intended as a comic figure — someone to be ridiculed for his selfishness, stupidity, and sycophancy to Lady C. While some of the portrayals show him as being less formal than Jane’s description suggests and the greasy hair might be a bit much, there is nothing in P&P (the book) that suggests he is “fine” or a sympathetic figure or a suitable husband for anyone.

    1. bdelleman Avatar

      I guess it depends how you define red flags. Elizabeth and her father find Mr. Collins ridiculous, but not frightening. He’s nothing like Arthur Huntingdon from The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte (for example) or any of the men in that novel who abuse their wives. Charlotte may avoid him, but she’s happy and he treats her well. He is petty towards the Bennet family.

      And unfortunately his opinion of Lydia probably wasn’t uncommon for the time. Edmund and Fanny wish something similar about Maria in Mansfield Park (though arguably what Maria did was worse than Lydia).

      I do think some readers at the time probably would question Elizabeth’s sanity in refusing him, considering her position in life.

      1. Victoria Kincaid Avatar
        Victoria Kincaid

        He’s not abusive, no. But that’s a low bar. And Charlotte will probably be better off married to him than Lydia married to Wickham. Still, a low bar. Charlotte says she’s content, but I don’t know if I believe her. She wouldn’t tell E if she was unhappy–she’d have to admit that she was wrong and E. was right. We don’t see enough of Charlotte’s situation to know whether she really is content.

        We see plenty of Collins being selfish, rude, insensitive, and stupid. He tells E he wants to marry her because it will add to his happiness and says nothing about her happiness. He says he won’t rebuke her about her small dowry while detailing how small it is. He tells her nobody else will propose to her. He won’t even do her the honor of believing that she knows her own mind when she refuses him. Everything he does or says points to how unsuitable he is as a husband.

        At least Darcy was in love with her and probably believed she was in love with him. He listened when she talked. And he believed that no meant no.

      2. bdelleman Avatar

        It may be a low bar, but it’s the difference between being frightened for Charlotte or just thinking her life will be annoying. I worry far more about Lydia, Wickham may not be outright abusive but he also cannot provide.

        I don’t like Mr. Collins either, but I do think he’s a safe choice. I think Jane Austen was commenting on what women would be expected to accept.

  10. Linda Avatar

    Great job of showing all the different Collins. Interesting fact that the films all chose much older actors to portray him. I like Matt Smith and Tom Hollander the best.

    1. bdelleman Avatar

      I really like Matt Smith’s Mr. Collins. He did a really good job.

  11. Karl Avatar

    Actors play younger people ALL THE TIME.

    1. bdelleman Avatar


      Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I have argued that with Mr. Collins it changes the essence of his character. And they aren’t trying to pass him for a younger age either.

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