A Birthday Tribute to Richard Armitage… and his magnetic performance as Mr. Thornton

They say you never forget your first time. It’s never truer when it comes to love… or in this case, a crush. I’ve opened up publicly when I was spellbound by Gregory Peck when I first saw him in well, Spellbound, in which I also mentioned several other guys who’ve stolen my heart in similar fashion. Of course, Richard Armitage in his role in BBC’s North and South as John Thornton is high on that list!

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So for his 42nd birthday today, I thought I’d highlight the role that I first saw him in… which instantly became a favorite. Hence he’s on my top 10 favorite literary characters in movies.

Why Mr. Thornton?

It seems that every fans of period drama is obsessed by Mr. Darcy, as do popular culture with the endless portrayal of Darcy-esque characters. Y’know what, I’d take Mr. Thornton over Darcy any day. Some people describe Thornton as the ‘working class Darcy’ but oh, he’s sooo much more than that. Obviously, the fact that he is a working man, a self-made businessman with his shares of tragedy and struggles, makes him a decidedly more intriguing yet identifiable character, even by today’s working men and women. Thornton is not some curmudgeon filthy rich guy who’s used to have everything served to him in a silver platter. He’s rough, stern and even dangerous because life made him that way, he’s forced to be wise beyond his years due to the circumstances at his cotton mills, so his aggression is more of a survival thing.

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What I love about the novel North & South by Elizabeth Gaskell is that it’s not just about romance. Of course there’s an underlying love story between the two main characters, John Thornton and Margaret Hale, but there are so much more going on in each of their lives that make their relationship, stormy and tumultuous as it is, all the more riveting.

Ok, so I’m not going to lie there’s that purely superficial aspect. John Thornton is oh-so-dashing… the talk, dark and handsome variety, BUT with substance. I’d say the sexiest part about a guy is his intellect and Thornton is a savvy businessman, a respected mill owner with real responsibilities, both to his family and his employees. Plus there’s that tortured soul thing that I can’t resist. All that pent-up emotion and inner tumult makes for a magnetic Byronic hero. In short, Richard makes that ‘heavy heart and weary soul’ look so devastatingly sexy.

ThorntonReflective

When the camera isn’t focused on his face, there are so many other things to appreciate. Those rugged, broad-shouldered form, and supremely manly hands… trust me, I actually rewind these scenes every time I watch it. Forlorn and gloom has never looked so spellbinding.

Of course there’s also the period clothes… oh how men had fashion taste then. Richard seems built to wear period clothes, sure his tall, lean figure would probably rock ANY outfit, but there’s something about the tailored Victorian suits that fit him to a tee! Plus he looks good in black. I found this nifty article about what Mr. Thornton’s clothes tell us in North and South.

With cravat …

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Or without …

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… Thornton is one well-dressed gent.


Ten favorite moments with John Thornton

Thornton_CottonMill

First time I beheld Mr. Thornton from a distance… with cottons flying about in the air like snow. It’s also the first time N&S heroine Margaret sees him after being informed by the mill workers where to find him. I’d imagine she’d have this thought in her head the moment she spots him… “THAT’s Mr. Thornton? I thought he’d be old and balding, but he most certainly is neither.” I might order Gaskell’s novel in my Kindle to read her poetic words of that first encounter.

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You’re ill?

It’s merely two words but the way Thornton says it with his deep voice, subtly leaning towards Margaret, speaks volumes about his feelings for her. THAT my friends, is one swoon-worthy moment for me.

The proposal scene. You just have to see the whole scene to really appreciate the beauty of this encounter. I love how vulnerable Thornton is in this scene… how he let his guard down, nervous but perhaps also excited that he finally can let his feelings known… Alas, it ends up being the worst day of his life.

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I love the post-proposal scene as Thornton briskly walk home in torment. His business partner later commented when he saw him on the street that ‘he’s not as in control as usual.’ An astute observation, Mr. Bell. Thornton certainly can handle any business-related turbulence, but THIS… a matter of the heart, is something he’s totally unprepared for.

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“John, a mothers love holds fast and forever. A girl’s love is like a puff of smoke, changes with every wind.”

A tender moment between a mother and son. I’m not a big fan of Hannah Thornton, a lioness of a woman who’s over-protective of his eldest son. But in the end, I get where she’s coming from. Thornton is close to his mother because she’s all he’s got and vice versa, so there’s no Oedipus complex in the works here, nor is Thornton a mama’s boy.

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Another moment of vulnerability. A rioting group of mill workers threw a piece of rock at Thornton but hit Margaret’s head instead. Fearing for Margaret’s life, you could see the look of horror on his face as he surveys her head wound. Yet I know at that moment he just falls even more in love with her. She has become his savior, in more ways than one … and I think that very idea must’ve thrilled him amidst all that chaos.

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The scenes between Thornton and Higgins highlight the complicated relationship between the two social classes of the North, the mill owners and the poor working class. Their unlikely friendship serve as healing power for both men, I mean Higgins is after all the guy who organized the strike that threatens his business. It’s a compelling character transformation on Thornton’s part.

Thornton_Church

The production quality of this BBC series is just superb. It’s so beautifully shot and the way the camera zooms in and out of the character adds so much to the mood of a given scene. I love this quiet moment at the church where Margaret mourns her father, just weeks after her mother’s passing. She had just turned around to see Higgins and his daughter in attendance, but she doesn’t see that Thornton is there too. As he looks at her, it’s almost he feels almost jealous at Higgins that she cares more about a mill worker being there than him… but yet he also feels for Margaret and her sufferings. It’s palpable he can’t ever get her out of his mind, try as he might.

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“Look back. Look back at me.

I think this is a fan favorite from the show as it’s got that ‘money shot’ of Mr. Thornton’s melancholic face in close-up. But the emotion conveyed in this scene is profound. Despite that botched proposal, there’s still a glimmer of hope that perhaps one day he might be able to win Margaret’s heart, but now, as her carriage goes further away from his sight, that hope is dimmed even further…
ThorntonSleeping

Maybe it’s just me but I find this very shot absolutely beguiling. All the shirtless scenes of Guy of Gisborne (Robin Hood), the sex scenes of Lucas North (Spooks), the macho action scenes of John Porter (Strike Back), yes they’re all juicy, but they don’t quite have the same effect on me as this one. Of course some people would look at this and say, ‘it’s just some guy sleeping on his desk!‘ Heck there are perhaps some who’re doing this right about now at their workplace, ahah. But that’s the beauty of Thornton, he can make even the most mundane, every day thing so darn stimulating! [Or it could be that I have a serious problem, ahah]
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The best and most satisfying finale of any period drama I’ve ever seen. It’s so beautifully shot at the train station. The two leads have never looked more ravishing, and their chemistry is quite breathtaking. The way the camera so intimately captures the moment they (and us the viewers) have been longing for is pure gleeful perfection. Again, THIS is a scene that has to be seen… A still image just won’t do it justice.

Bonus:

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A handsome gent, top hat, a book and a bread basket. What else could a girl want? Margaret, you are one LUCKY girl!


Thanks to Armitage Army for the various screen caps and Youtube clips I posted here.


Well, why don’t you join in on wishing Mr. Armitage a happy birthday! Or you could share the moment you fall for your ultimate movie crush 😀