If you like your movie hunks mysterious, brooding -- and from the 19th century -- prepare to swoon over Michael Fassbender as the dashing-yet-haunted Edward Rochester in 'Jane Eyre,' which opens this Friday. Rochester was portrayed by an appropriately gruff young Orson Welles in the 1944 film, but even purists will surely embrace the latest version of Charlotte Bronte's man of many secrets.
You've already seen Fassbender in '300,' 'Inglourious Basterds,' and 'Band of Brothers,' (and trailers for the upcoming 'X-Men: First Class'), but this film is likely to land him a whole new following, just as a certain dip in a pond did for Colin Firth in the 1995 miniseries 'Pride and Prejudice.'
Troubled Rochester is just one of our favorite dashing heroes from the pages of literary classics, characters who took on a whole new allure when portrayed on screen by the very appealing likes of Daniel Day-Lewis, Julian Sands and Christian Bale.
Laurence Olivier in 'Wuthering Heights' (1939)
If you've only seen Olivier as an elderly villain in 'Marathon Man,' then by all means, go rent 'Wuthering Heights' (or simply watch the entire movie, below). In 1939, he wasn't Sir Laurence yet, just very young, very handsome, and very romantic. Catch the final scene in which -- spoiler! -- a bereaved Heathcliff begs a dying Cathy to haunt him forever. If you prefer your hunks in color, check out the more modern made-for-TV version with 'Inception's Tom Hardy.
Julian Sands in 'A Room With a View' (1985)
In 19th century novels, like this one by E.M. Forster, it seems the heroines are always refusing the suitor who is charming, handsome and clearly perfect for her and sticking with a dreadful stick-in-the mud instead. Lucy (a 19-year-old Helena Bonham Carter) spends the entire movie denying her feelings for the immensely attractive and offbeat George (Sands), when everyone else can see how right they are for each other. The scene where he impulsively kisses her in the gorgeous Italian countryside is how everyone dreams their Italian vacation should play out.
Daniel Day-Lewis in 'The Age of Innocence' (1993)
The '90s were a heyday for classic literary adaptations, and Martin Scorsese, of all people, started this unlikely trend with his first film about upper-class morals, not lower-class crime sprees, based on the 1920 novel by Edith Wharton. Daniel Day-Lewis is heartbreaking as the lawyer who loves one woman (the alluring Michelle Pfeiffer), but cannot risk the scandal of pursuing a married woman. His astute fiancée (Winona Ryder) won't let him out of her clutches and really, can you blame her?
Christian Bale in 'Little Women' (1994)
What was that we were just saying about Winona not letting a handsome hunk go? As headstrong Jo March, she didn't get the memo and bid adieu to Laurie (Christian Bale, nearly a decade before becoming the Dark Knight). Thousands of Baleheads were beside themselves, but that's the way Louisa May Alcott wrote it, alas, with Jo opting for the much older Friedrich (the not-exactly hard-on-the-eyes Gabriel Byrne).
Colin Firth in 'Pride and Prejudice' (1995)
The clip below, as a frustrated-in-love Mr. Darcy wades into the pond on his country estate, is the moment when fans went from thinking him of that nice British chap that Kristin Scott-Thomas betrayed in 'The English Patient' and started thinking, "Oh! Mr. Darcy!" Firth plays the quintessentially restrained British gentleman who, despite his proud exterior, harbors deeply romantic feelings and the noblest of intentions. It took some time for Elizabeth Bennett to discover Darcy's true qualities, just as it took a while for newly minted Oscar winner Firth's career to take off. But we've all lived very happily ever since falling in love with this miniseries.
Greg Wise in 'Sense and Sensibility' (1995)
Sadly, the dashingly delicious Willoughby turned out to be just another shallow cad, out for money instead of true love, but what a lovely moment his first appearances make, in the rain, astride a horse as he gallops to the rescue of Marianne (Kate Winslet), who's sprained her ankle. Good thing for her, the stalwart (but far less dashing) Colonel Branden (Alan Rickman) is waiting in the wings to sweep her off his feet in his own far humbler way.
Ciaran Hinds in 'Persuasion' (1995)
Jane Austen certainly had a thing for men of few words, which means the actors who play them must intrigue us with their mere presence, something the Irish Hinds does ably as the tongue-tied would-be suitor of heroine Anne (Amanda Root), who, on the advice of her family, rejected him years ago. As with other Austen books, there's another charming cad on the scene as well, but he doesn't stand a chance next to the true man of character.
Jeremy Northam in 'Emma' (1996)
You're all probably much more familiar with modern-day remake 'Clueless' than the Austen original, although 'Clueless' actually came out the year before.) So we'll just cut to the chase by saying that Northam plays the Paul Rudd character here, the one that Cher -- er -- Emma (Gwyneth Paltrow) takes forever to realize is the perfect man for her. The scene where he admits he loves her -- and proposes (below) makes us a little weak in the knees.
Matthew McFadyen in 'Pride & Prejudice' (2005)
McFadyen plays a more yearning, emotionally accessible Mr. Darcy than Colin Firth did, but that doesn't mean that his declaration of love is any less heartfelt, or Elizabeth (Keira Knightley)'s rejection any less painful. And sure, Colin had that solo wade in the pond, but we'll also happily take Matthew's walk across the misty morning field to tell Elizabeth, "You have bewitched me, body and soul. I love you." How can any woman say no to that?
James McAvoy in 'Atonement' (2007)
Ian McEwan didn't write this novel until 2001, but it has the feel of a much-older classic. And its era-specific themes of class differences and the effects of one scandalous rumor echo so many of literature -- and film's -- great star-crossed lovers. Anything that keeps someone from finding true love and happiness with James McAvoy, now that's a tragedy.