As a huge fan of period dramas, I’ve been wanting to make up this list for quite some time. To double the fun, I invited my Twitter pal and fellow period drama enthusiast Paula G. to collaborate with me on this one and we came up with no less than 15 of our favorite romantic heroes from various literary adaptations on both TV and movies and the actors who portray them beautifully. Because of the length, this post is divided into two parts, read Part II here.
What makes a great romantic hero? In a lot of cases, it isn’t just the attractiveness of the actors, their abilities, the script, the period costumes, etc. There’s one word that’s going to get overused here, and that’s chemistry. Chemistry will make you believe anything; lack thereof will put you to sleep. So here are the first eight on the list that got it right (listed in random order):
1. John Thornton – North & South
Paula – Ruth recommended North & South to me, as I hadn’t seen it before or read the Elizabeth Gaskell novel it’s based on. I watched part of it on YouTube, and very soon added it to my Netflix queue. Simply because, although Richard Armitage is not my usual cup of tea looks-wise, there is a lot of chemistry between the two leads, and by the time they get together, I reckon everyone has been willing it to happen. Most romantic scene (so far): Thornton defends Margaret to his mean mother & sister.
Ruth – I actually heard about BBC miniseries when I saw a clip on YouTube and was instantly mesmerized by Richard’s smolder. Forget Darcy, Thornton’s the real deal, his torment is something even guys today can relate to. He actually has an occupation and business crisis he has to deal with, so he’s not just sitting around all day thinking about which girl to marry. Though he loves his mother dearly, he’s no mama’s boy. Oh and that chemistry with Margaret, woof [fanning myself]… have you seen the bewitching kiss on the train station? There’s a reason I chose they’re my favorite romantic couple. Anyway, I’m a fan of Richard for life because of this piece, in fact, I’ve suggested him for various roles, i.e. a futuristic Robin Hood and Uncharted‘s Nathan Drake. He’s one of those Brits I’m still waiting to hit it big in Hollywood, hopefully his role in The Hobbit will lead to more high-profile projects!
2. Edward Rochester – Jane Eyre (2011 and 1983 version)
Paula – (2011 version) I’ll take this opportunity to shill for my favorite in the role from my favorite version, Michael Fassbender. It has been argued that any filmed Rochester should be as physically unattractive as he is described in the novel. I counter by saying that an adaptation needs some shorthand. Because the novel’s sexual undertone has to be conveyed in a hurry to get it into two or three hours, the chemistry needs to be believable straight away. Fassbender really captures Rochester’s crankiness, sense of humor, and vitality. If you watch him during the scene in which he’s officially introduced to Jane, you really get that nobody’s ever talked back to him and he kind of likes it. And later, when he says he’s looking to marry a girl who will “regenerate me with a vengeance,” we know he isn’t talking about a visit to the spa. Most romantic scene: The proposal scene is always good but I offer these alternatives: One night in Rochester’s room, Jane puts out one fire and sets off another… Jane and Rochester banter over her wages…Rochester finally tells Jane the truth about Bertha Mason —and Jane’s so into him she needs God’s help to leave him.
Ruth – (1983 version) I’ve dedicated an entire post for my favorite Rochester, because to me, Dalton captured the darkness of the quintessential tortured soul, as well as the intense love he has for Jane. Then there’s the way he delivers every line with so much emotion… his voice alone is a ‘character’ in itself that brings life to role like no other. Most romantic scene: The bedroom fire & proposal scenes pack heat, but I also love the part when Rochester’s been sleeping in front of Jane’s door waiting for her. When she came out, she tripped on him and fell right into his arms. Rochester holds her with such indescribable longing as he whispers sweet nothings into her ear… man, that Jane certainly has some amazing willpower!
P.S. Fassbender is my second favorite Rochester. He’s swoon-worthy for sure, this role proves the amazing range this Irish-German actor has. No wonder he’s in such a high demand in leading man roles!
3. Col. Brandon – Sense & Sensibility
Paula – Alan Rickman may be more known for his antagonist roles like Hans Gruber and Severus Snape, but he does a great job in this film with quietly and subtly portraying complete and total unrequited devotion. He so vividly shows love at first sight and then represses it for the rest of the movie. That is, until his beloved is so desperately ill that if he doesn’t have something to do, he shall run mad. In Jane Austen’s novels, it’s always the quiet steady ones who are worth the wait, as Marianne discovers. I thought Rickman had great chemistry with Emma Thompson as Elinor, which really made the story’s crossed signals believable. Most romantic scene: Brandon rescues Marianne from a rainstorm.
Ruth – One of the major reasons the 1995’s Sense and Sensibility is my all time favorite film is because of Rickman’s sensitive portrayal as Col. Brandon. As I said in the Jane Austen rain scenes post, Brandon is the most compelling of the three male characters, as is the case in the 2008 BBC version with David Morrissey as Brandon. He’s a bit more expressive in his affection for Marianne but Morrissey’s got that dark, brooding look and quiet grace that I think is perfect for the role.
4. Frederick Wentworth – Persuasion
Paula – Strictly as the character is written, Wentworth is a bit of a cipher. This is Austen’s intent as we are meant to see everything from Anne Elliot’s point of view and thus cannot know Wentworth’s mind or intentions. I think the best version is Ciaran Hinds in the 1995 feature film; Amanda Root is my favorite Anne Elliot as well. Most romantic scene: Wentworth writes Anne a love note while they are both in a room full of people and, under Mrs. Musgrove’s nose, devises a way to get it to her.
Ruth – The tale of second chances at love is what makes me love Persuasion so much. As Paula said though, we’re deprived of Wentworth’s viewpoint which can be a challenge for the actor playing the part. I was so taken by this story I actually bought a book called Captain Wentworth’s Diary by Amanda Grange which was quite a fun read. I agree that the 1995 film is the superior adaptation as well, though the 2010 Masterpiece Theater version has a more appealing production qualities and the dashing Rupert Penry-Jones as Wentworth. It’s a shame though they didn’t have him wear a Navy uniform the entire film! Both actors convey their repressed passion well, which makes the few breathless-ness moments he shared with Anne in the film all the more impactful.
5. Fitzwilliam Darcy – Pride & Prejudice
Paula – And now…also from the year 1995…from the Romantic Period Hero Hall of Fame…Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy. As an aristocratic curmudgeon attracted to the “wrong” girl from a mortifying family, Firth does Darcy’s hauteur, studied indifference, confusion, resolve, and passionate love so well, it’s impossible not to picture him when you read the book. Firth was so brilliant in the role, he played it again (brilliantly) in the two Bridget Jones films.
Most romantic scene: Of course the wet-shirt-in-the-lake scene is justly famous, but I also love the scene, quite early on, when Elizabeth shows up at Netherfield to visit her sick sister. As she strides into the dining room in her her muddy dress and boots to the disapproving stares of the ladies, Darcy can only smile. P.S. Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle had so much chemistry, they got together in real life.
Ruth – I’m not going to deny Firth’s place as every girl’s favorite Jane Austen hero, and I too was quite skeptical about Matthew MacFadyen’s casting in the 2005 version. But upon second viewing, his Mr. Darcy rendition actually grows on me. He’s got gorgeous eyes and has that longing look down pat, and my favorite part is when his hand touches Lizzy’s as he helps her to her carriage, an electric spark between them sort of ignites and he sort of tries to shake it off (unsuccessfully I’d imagine) That’s the stuff dreamy love stories are made off [sigh] …
6. Mr. Knightley – Emma
Paula – Gallant manners, witty repartee and devilish grin…no wonder rich, spoiled Emma Woodhouse starts to get jealous when Jeremy Northam’s Mr. Knightley pays attention to the mysterious Jane Fairfax and naif Harriet Smith. But does he love her back? We know he does but it’s funny to watch them figure it out. PS: Does anyone know this guy’s first name? She’ll be calling him Mr. Knightley when she’s 60. Most romantic scene: Northam’s expression is priceless as Emma asks Mr. Knightley to dance at a ball, saying something like “It’s not like we’re brother and sister.”
Ruth – I don’t think I can add any more to Paula’s astute description of Northam’s Mr. Knightley (his first name is George apparently, a perfect English gentleman’s name). There’s that twinkle in his eyes that is so beguiling, especially during the archery scene when he quipped to Emma, ‘Try not to kill my dogs‘ I can’t believe how exasperating it is to watch Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma though, I need to see the 2009 version with the more affable Romola Garai and Jonny Lee-Miller as Mr. Knightley!
7. Newland Archer – The Age of Innocence
Paula – The idea of a guy trapped in a loveless marriage strikes me as more tragic (for all concerned) than romantic. I realize this is more or less the premise of Jane Eyre as well but for whatever reason, though it’s a gorgeous film overall, it just depressed me.
Ruth – What’s more gorgeous than the cinematographic and opening title of this movie? The explosive sparks between Michelle Pfeiffer and Daniel Day-Lewis! Yes, watching the stifling society’s norm suck the life of these people can be depressing, but heart-wrenching is perhaps the term I’d use. The pain and passion are palpable and undeniable, and Day-Lewis as Archer is just superb. It’s a beautiful, haunting and heartfelt performance that makes me think he would’ve made a fantastic Rochester as well, but then again, is there really a role Daniel can’t play?…
8. Robert Dudley – The Virgin Queen
Paula – If the real Robert Dudley was anything like he’s played by Tom Hardy, Elizabeth I’s famous willpower would have gotten quite the workout. This boy is naughty. He cracks her up with his witty remarks and devilish grin, he presumes too much, and he takes liberties with the Royal person (not like that, though she wants him to). However, she has known him since childhood, he is great fun after a hard day squabbling with the Privy Council, and he always has her back. No wonder she loves him forever, though she isn’t willing or able to marry and has to banish him from Court (for secretly wedding a lookalike lady-in-waiting!).
Hardy has such great chemistry with Anne Marie Duff that, although I knew what was going to happen, I actually teared up when his character died. Most romantic scene: Any in which Dudley steals a kiss from the Queen.
Ruth – Oooh I have not seen this adaptation but with Tom Hardy as Dudley AND Kevin McKidd in this one, I better put this on my Netflix queue, pronto! What I love about Hardy is he’s got that mischievously sexy aura about him that’s so effortless. An essential quality for any period leading man… well, of any genre for that matter!
Well that’s it for Part I, stay tuned this weekend for the rest of the list. I will have a poll at the end (which I’ve never done before!) for you to vote on your favorite!
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55 thoughts on “The Flix List: 15 favorite period drama heroes – Part I”
What? No Rufus Sewell in Dangerous Beauty? Must be on your list for part 2 ;-). But even if he’s not, I can be at peace with Timothy Dalton as Rochester in Jane Eyre, sigh …
Even my boy GB is not on the list!
This is where I admit I have never seen any of those movies and never heard of any of those characters 😦 I guess I’m not such a big fan of British period dramas ahah
Castor, dude… you’re missing out man. Trust me, you’ll still be very masculine even if you are a fan of this genre. All of these would surely appeal to the sensitive side of any man, and you’ll score lots of points with your girl 😉
I’ve got “The Age of Innocence”, but that’s all.
However, when “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Killer” finally comes out, I’m pretty sure I’ll have a new favorite period piece hero.
So this is the girly girl post you were alluding to before 😛
I’m not a huge period drama person so i can’t really give a worthwhile opinion on this list, but it has inspired to maybe make my own list with a different genre =D
He..he.. well glad that I at least inspire you to do something… though I had hoped you’d give one of these movies a chance 🙂
Well, i do plan to watch the new Jane Eyre when it comes out on dvd
That counts for something, right?
Yes it does! 🙂 Curious to hear what you think of it.
Fun list! I, too, was extremely skeptical and then extremely pleased with MacFadyen as Darcy … I thought that production as a whole was surprisingly great. Absolutely loved Donald Sutherland as Mr. Bennet (my favorite character).
Just wanna put it out there that Mark Strong as Mr. Knightley in the 1996 made-for-TV Emma (starring Kate Beckinsale) is also worth a watch. He’s not as dreamy as Northam (who is?) but he really captures Knightley’s gravitas, and I think does a better job of showing himself to be subtly in love with Emma throughout.
Looking forward to part II!!
Yay! I like Firth’s Darcy but upon rewatching I actually found him a bit too aloof while MacFadyen has that inherent warmth about him that I’ve grown to like. I even find him better looking now, and that rain scene is oh so romantic.
Oh yeah, I need to see that Emma version too, so Mr. Knightley’s been played by 3 Brits that I like a lot, VERY cool!
As for Brandon… I absolutely agree THAT is the single most romantic and heart-wrenching moment in cinema (not just in period drama)… no word is ever spoken, just a hint of a smile, but yet it’s soooo expressive. I always cry watching S&S no matter how often I do… I feel so much for Brandon y’know. I also like that part when he grew so restless in the hallway and he begged Elinor ‘Give me an occupation or I shall run mad…’ OH MY! It’d be a crime for Marianne NOT to accept a love like that.
Oh, also, I feel the need to argue with your choice for Most Romantic Moment in Sense & Sensibility. The moment at which Mariane is revealed to be safe and her mother is there and she thanks Colonel Brandon for bringing her … THAT is the single most romantic and amazing moment in all of cinema. Alan Rickman deserves an award for those five seconds of screen time. I am not even kidding. I cry every. single. time.
No argument here. he’s so excellent in it, we are — i believe the English phrase is — “spoilt for choice” 🙂
Richard! Can’t wait for his role in The Hobbit. Did you see the preview vlog that was released today/yesterday? It got me so amped up.
Looking fwd to the 2nd part of this; I’m not that familiar with period pieces so it’s good to get the insight on what’s (who’s) best!
Yeah I did, I can’t wait to see that movie! Too bad we have to wait over a year and a half for it 😦
Glad you’re a big fan of Richard too, Anna. I take it you have seen North & South then right? It’s an absolute MUST SEE for Richard’s fans, or for anyone who appreciate great eye candy + a wonderful love story!
The only movie I saw from the list is The Age of Innocence, not my kind of genre. The only I watched it was because it was directed by Scorsese. I actually enjoyed the movie and the cinematography was great. Not sure if I want to sit through the other films though. 🙂
Ha..ha.. that’s ok Ted, I know this isn’t your genre. Glad you enjoyed Age of Innocence though, it’s probably my fave from Scorsese as there’s no violence or controversial subject matter that I find offensive.
I can’t believe you haven’t seen THE VIRGIN QUEEN, Flixy! It’s a mini series I’ve seen at least five or six times so far 🙂 Not only that it features amazing Tom Hardy and amazing Anne Marrie Duff (James McAvoy’s wife) but it also the best soundtrack ever with stunning Bulgarian female folk singers (GOD BREATHED being my favourite song).
As you I adore Rupert Penry Jones, who won so many polls over at my place, Michael Fassbender, Matthew McFadyen!
sorry for the mistakes I ate quite a few words in the above comment 🙂
I can’t believe it either Dezzy, so thanks to Paula now I have to rent that one! My pal Prairiegirl also told me about James Purefoy in Mayor of Castorbridge. When I saw pics of him in that one I knew he’d be included in this if I had seen the movie! 😀
I’ll see if I can find the soundtrack on YouTube, I’m sure someone’s made a clip of that film w/ that song. Glad you like some of our choices, Dezzy, stay tuned for Part II!
I also loved loved Simon Woods in CRANFORD 🙂
Here’s my favourite song from THE VIRGIN QUEEN: GOD BREATHED in which you can hear the amazing Bulgarian voices:
Awesome Dezzy, thanks so much for sharing this. The song is beautiful indeed!
thanks so much, it’s snowing here & somehow perfect 🙂
I can’t believe you’ve seen more period dramas than me! 😉
I have to be boring and agree that Colin Firth is my all time favorite! I am a bit surprised that Col Brandon made it onto this list cause I barely notice him. For me its all about the beautiful bastard Willoghby! If someone picked me up in the rain and carried me home I’d be in heaven 😉
Really? Well good then, I feel like I haven’t seen enough. Hey, I’m sure lots of girls would agree w/ you on Colin and he was my fave too until the new one came along, which surprised me actually. I’m a fan of Matthew since that movie.
You barely notice him??? [sad face] I can’t deny Willoughby is gorgeous [no wonder Emma got together w/ Greg Wise since then] but Brandon’s got so much heart… I guess I just have a thing for the tortured soul. That’s the downside of having motorized transport these days that the likelihood of guys carrying us home on foot is now slim to none 🙂
Brandon may be nice but he is so damn boring! “Can the soul be really be satisfied with such polite affections? To love is to burn – to be on fire, like Juliet or Guinevere or Eloise…”
Ahah, I love that you use Marianne’s argument to counter me. Yes I suppose, but that ‘burning’ love usually doesn’t last… hence the nice guy gets the girl! I’m surprised you didn’t say ‘To die for love? What could be more glorious.’ To which I’d reply with … ‘I think that would be taking your romantic sensibilities a little far’ 😀
Why can’t you let me keep my romantic fantasies? I do realize that life is different but I prefer to live in the made up world of movies 😉
Ahaha… ok, ok… yes, love in the movies is certainly beautiful isn’t it? Austen certainly loved happy endings.
As you know I am not the ‘go to’ of knowledge when it comes to this genre of film. I don’t think I have seen of these at all.
I would like to wish you all the very best for the weekend!! My very best friends!
Great writing as always I like what you are doing with the images too lately Ruth…very posh!
Thank you for your kind words Custard… your comments always bring a smile to my face! I know this isn’t your genre and I respect that, just like I’m not into gangster movies, though I make exception for some (hint, hint) 😀
Hope you’re enjoying your weekend too! I’ve got to finish up Part II which is coming up later tonight.
Colonel Brandon for the motherf*cking win!
Also, since Robert Dudley is on this list, and I know it’s hard for Tom hardy to lose this one, but how does Joseph Fiennes’ performance factor in? (p.s. Haven’t seen the Virgin Queen neither)
Ahah, yes he’s in my top 3, Paolo… but Rochester & Thornton are REALLY tough to beat as well.
What movie of Joseph Fiennes’ are you referring to? Shakespeare in Love?
He played Shakespeare in Shakespeare in Love. He was in Elizabeth with Cate Blanchett as the Queen in 1998. But I forgot about it til this moment. So i guess that’s your answer 😉
Oh boy, how could I forget him! Joseph deserves to be on this list, eh Paula… oh well, he could be #16 🙂
That’s cool, Hardy can still be my Dudley 🙂
While your writing is beautiful…as usual…I have to give props to the amazing photo/picture work you did for this post, Ruth. The combo photos, the text work, everything! Bravo! Well done! you should give classes (writing AND photo) 🙂
Thank you so much T… took me a while to compile those together, so it’s nice that someone noticed it 😀
Oh boy, I don’t think I am cut out to teach anything, especially in writing… but what a kind thing to say.
I think I literally died when I saw Michael Fassbender, Colin Firth, Daniel Day-Lewis and Tom Hardy. Damn hormones.
Ahah, I don’t blame you Anna… I don’t call ’em swoon-worthy for nothin’ 😀
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I agree about the comment on Gwyneth Paltrow. Even though I do like her, I just couldn’t watch her Emma all the way through.
Yeah, especially now after I saw the BBC version with Romola Garai, she’s sooo much better!
I really need to watch Sense and Sensibility. I’ve still never seen it.
Yes you must!! If you’re a fan of Austen or period dramas, it’s definitely a masterpiece in acting, writing, well pretty much everything. Ang Lee’s direction is nothing short of stupendous, and the actors were all superb.
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Loved this post! I gotta disagree with the best Mr. Rochester though. Toby Stephens for the win! 😉
Hello Tiff! Oh this post was done four years ago before I saw Toby Stephens’ version. He definitely has topped Timothy Dalton’s performance now that I’ve seen it. The entire adaptation is far superior too as I also love Ruth Wilson as Jane. Thanks for checking out the post!
Ohhhh lol. Well I’m glad you’ve gone over to the Toby Stephens side!
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