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!

BdayRichard

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.

NorthSouthDVDcover

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 …

ThorntonCravat

Or without …

ThorntonHighCollar

… 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.

Thornton_YoureIll

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.

ThorntonWalkHome

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.

Thornton_MotherandSon

“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.

ThorntonFearingforMargaret

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.

ThorntonHigginsDinner

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.

Thornton_LookBackAtMe

“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]
ThorntonMargaretPreKiss

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. I couldn’t find the actual scene w/ the dialogue, but I think the visuals alone communicate their feelings perfectly well.

Bonus:

ThorntonTallHat

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 😀

[Wintry] Weekend Roundup: House of Cards and All About Eve

BaftaStatuetteHello everyone! Happy post-BAFTA Monday, fellow film fans. I’ve only followed it somewhat via Twitter, seeing people’s reactions on the winners. What’s with the hate against ARGO, I think it deserved the Best Film and Best Director win for Ben Affleck. In fact, it’s perhaps one of my favorite Best Picture contenders, but I remember people were grumbling too when The King’s Speech won. Ah well, I don’t always agree with the winners so it’s nice to be on the other side of that spectrum.

Well, we’ve got sleet/freezing rain/snow mix all day Sunday so I never left the house, which rarely happens. To all my friends in the Northeast affected by the monster storm Nemo, I pray that you’re all ok. I’m not gonna complain that we barely half a foot of snow!

I skipped the cinema again as nothing interest me. I had seen Side Effects a couple of weeks ago so check out my review if you haven’t already. Oh apparently Top Gun IMAX 3D re-release still spells ‘ka-ching’ for Paramount as it raked in $1.9 mil this weekend playing in 300 theaters. I wouldn’t mind rewatching that again on Blu-ray, I’ll see if my pal Ted has the BD 😉

So my weekend viewings consist of a brand new made-for-Netflix show House of Cards, a masterpiece classic All About Eve, and Bel Ami, which was so inferior compared to the other two. I don’t even feel like reviewing that last one. Right after I finished it, I couldn’t help but watch the last episode of North & South just to see this scene. Richard Armitage as John Thornton never fails to beguile me and erase my memory of Robert Pattinson as a cunning Frenchman.

House of Cards (2013)

I’ve only seen two episodes in and both are directed by David Fincher so naturally I expect something great. Well, thankfully it didn’t disappoint. Fincher’s directing style with his signature camera work and framing technique works well for this story. It made me wish he had directed the entire episodes though I reserve judgment until I see the entire first season. Kevin Spacey is perfectly cast Frank Underwood, a ruthless and ambitious politician (is there any other kind?) willing to use and betray anyone to get what he wants in Washington. I’m usually not into political shows, but this one is quite entertaining. Spacey’s got this inherent playfulness in portraying a despicable character, you’re repulsed and captivated by him at the same time.

HouseOfCards_Stills

I just read this interview on Hitfix with Fincher on how the show came about, which was inspired by an early 90s UK TV series of the same name. It’s fascinating to see the casting process as well…

“…One of the responsibilities I put on the cast when we had our first read through is I said, “I want everybody here to know that you represent our first choice – each actor here represents our first choice for these characters. So do not f*** this up.”

The ‘breaking the fourth wall’ style where the character speaks directly at the audience is tricky, but I think it works well here, or at least the filmmaker and actor makes it work. Only Spacey’s character uses this technique though, it gives the feeling that we’re in on it on all of Frank’s schemes. I’m also impressed with the rest of the key players on the show: Robin Wright as Spacey’s equally sly wife, Kate Mara as the ambitious young reporter, and Corey Stoll as a Pennsylvania congressman consumed by his own demons of sex and drug addiction.
I hope the rest of the episodes are as intriguing as the first two, but my hubby and I are definitely hooked for more.
///

All About Eve (1950)

AllboutEvePoster

I’m sooo glad I finally saw this film, special thanks to my friend Vince for his help to get this movie! I initially wanted to see this as I’m participating in Paula and Aurora‘s 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon and I’m going to be featuring the famed costume designer Edith Head. So naturally I want to see some of her Oscar-winning work, and I’ve been wanting to see this one for ages. I also promised Andrew when he made this excellent Scene on a Sunday post on All About Eve over a year ago. It’s a bit late, sorry Andrew, but hey I did get to see it on a Sunday 🙂

This film was nominated for 14 Academy Awards and won six, including Best Picture. As of today, it remains as the only film in Oscar history to receive four female acting nominations (Bette Davis and Ann Baxter as Best Actress, Celeste Holm and Thelma Ritter as Best Supporting Actress). It’s worth noting that out of the four actresses, I’ve only seen Baxter and Holmes in a previous film, thanks to my Gregory Peck marathon. Same with the two male actors Gary Merill and Hugh Marlowe who were excellent in Twelve O’Clock High. George Sanders was excellent as well as the mischievous theater critic.

Andrew said it best on Twitter last night… “… imagine it’s more than half a century old. It’s so (sometimes startlingly) relevant and fresh.” Indeed it was! In fact I was thinking that there are some similarities between House of Cards‘ Frank and Eve Harrington, different end goal but they both used the same conniving, manipulative means to get what they want.

AllboutEveStills

Andrew also asked me which one is my favorite performance. Oh boy, between Davis, Baxter and Holmes, it’s really hard to say. Having seen Bette Davis’ performance for the first time, I was quite mesmerized by her. Baxter perhaps has the hardest role to convincingly portray an innocent small town ingenue to a devious, scheming b*tch climbing her way to the top. At times her delivery is a bit too over the top When she was wearing a black wig in her dressing room following a performance, I was reminded of her seductive pur in The Ten Commandments as she was trying to seduce Moses, ahah. I guess I like Holmes’ character the most because she’s kindhearted and sees the good in people. She’s a fantastic actress and her scene with Baxter in the powder room is especially memorable. Oh, there was also a brief but interesting cameo of a then unknown starlet by the name of Marilyn Monroe as an aspiring actres, but it was kind of a thankless role for her.

There are much to admire about this film… starting with the bewitching story, brought to life by all the talents involved. What this film also has in abundance is style. Visually, its set direction, cinematography, and of course costume design are superb. The brilliant script also makes this film surprisingly funny. Davis’ Margo Channing not only dresses well, but she seems to have an endless supply of great lines as well. She seems to have the best lines when she’s vexed… “I’ll admit I may have seen better days, but I’m still not to be had for the price of a cocktail like a salted peanut.” And of course her most famous line “Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night” is delivered with such a perfect sense of irony.

I feel like I can’t do it justice reviewing this film in my weekend roundup post, so let me just say that the iconic status is absolutely well-deserved. Joseph Leo Mankiewicz‘s film lives up to my already high expectations and captivated me from start to finish. Like Casablanca, I’m glad I finally saw one of Hollywood’s finest, and certainly it wouldn’t be the last.

5Reels


Well, that’s my Wintry weekend roundup. How ’bout you folks… seen anything good?