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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