Uncharacteristic Attractions: Why English Dramas Are Better Than Crack Cocaine
*Totally OT and completely unrelated to comic books or nerd culture. Well, typical male nerd culture. *
In the midst of what should be a horror film orgy I’ve deviated down a dark path into English period pieces. It started off harmless enough. I was hunting down YouTube clips starring Johnny Lee Miller after watching Hackers. I was watching Hackers because of an article I read comparing The Social Network to Hackers – Hollywood’s attempt at making computers and programming cool.
First off – has anyone ever seen Hackers? It’s a terribly campy 90s film starring a plump and attractive Angelina Jolie, a thin and sexy Johnny Lee Miller (Trainspotting, Eli Stone) and Matthew Lillard, pre-Scooby years. Fun fact: Johnny Lee Miller and Angelina Jolie were married for four years following their acting together in this flick. They’re still BFFs apparently. So – they really do bring the sexy on-screen together. Cause they were probably having sex.
This is what a sexy Johnny Lee Miller/Angelina Jolie combo looks like:
Anyways – from Hackers to Johnny Lee Miller, YouTube offered me a scene from Mansfield Park with an almost kiss between Fanny Price and Edmund Bertram. This was especially appealing as I spent an entire term studying Jane Austen (and have also seen the film). It was a sexy almost kiss video…which led to a Pride and Prejudice 2005 almost kiss video. With Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen.
In P&P, Matthew Macfadyen looks like this:
This was even more intriguing, since I remember watching the film a few years ago and disliking the actor who played Mr. Darcy. I remember his rapid and monotone delivery, with little emotional variation. It was incredibly displeasing because I watched the film immediately after reading Pride and Prejudice, so of course the Darcy in my head looked and acted completely differently. Curiosity and a desire to relive ill feelings towards the film inspired me to watch a portion of it again.
And I discovered something quite interesting – Macfadyen’s performance was actually pretty brilliant. Understated, yet tense and filled with subtle changes in vocal inflection. Plus smoldering eyes. It took about three run-throughs of the rain scene to really solidify the elements that were so captivating.
And now I’ve fallen head over heels in love with this actor.
Other positive bits – I’ve come to terms with Keira Knightley as an actress. I’ve struggled with whether to take her seriously but after reading the Atonement novel and re-watching the film recently (I’ll pinpoint this as the real start of the English period drama phase), she gets a pass from me.
Also – realizing the director of Pride and Prejudice (2005) and Atonement are one in the same. Sprawling romantic British period pieces are his forte and he does them quite well. They are rich in texture, color and emotion. Which is pretty much the definition of the genre.
The Matthew Macfadyen obsession led me to The Pillars of the Earth, an 8 hour mini-series put together by Starz and available on Netflix Instant Watch. Starz gets a thumbs up for forming a relationship with Netflix and allowing streaming content. Especially of their most recent shows. Pillars is a fantastic adaptation from a 1,400 page book by Ken Follett – it was produced by Ridley Scott who most currently has an obsession with English history resulting in a nice battery of action/romance/historical epics that may manipulate history a wee bit, but entertain while doing so. Anywho – the intro sequence to Pillars is a stunning watercolor motion capture and the score running underneath it is equally attractive.
Here’s a video of the intro, but for some reason the image is flipped. Still, you get the idea:
Pillars features Macfadyen, Ian McShane, Donald Sutherland and Allison Pill (from Scott Pilgrim vs The World!). This miniseries is nicely done. It’s like The Tudors minus all the insanely gratuitous sex and really rotten back-stabbing which eventually soured the show. Sure, plenty of characters scheme, but almost all of them get theirs in the end and the heroes triumph. There are several unapologetic conversations about God and religion, and it’s the first film or TV series I’ve watched in quite a while which doesn’t appear against religion as a whole. In fact, spirituality is seen as overwhelmingly positive and both Wiccans and Christians are given neutral space. There was not a single moment where I felt preached at or preached to – even though the main plot revolved around a church and priory. This aspect alone is a puzzle. Prior Philip is a welcome antidote to the good priest/bad priest mentality. He can be savvy and politic at times, without being overwhelmingly evil or pure and saintly. He’s human.
In Pillars of the Earth, Macfadyen looks like this:
I would have to say it’s probably one of my favorite TV series of the year. That’s not saying a ton – given that I haven’t felt excited or inspired by much television lately. But it is something I would definitely recommend to those interested in lengthy British period pieces ala the kind of productions usually tackled by PBS or BBC. It worked as an entry of only 8 episodes and it didn’t feel as if it needed to go on any longer. Just like some of the best comic book series – having a definitive end can help the storyteller wrap things up in a satisfying way.
Other weird Macfadyen connections…the actor is like a creepy fucking chameleon. I’ve watched two other films he’s been in recently, without realizing he was in them. The first film was Incendiary, a small British film starring Michelle Williams and Ewan McGregor – based on a novel about a woman coping with the loss of her husband and son to a terrorist bombing.
In this film – he looked like this:
Finally – he played the Sheriff of Nottingham in the 2010 Robin Hood. The Sheriff is dramatically underused in this version of the story- so he ends up with three or four real moments on-screen. Pretty easy to overlook.
But also hard to spot because in Robin Hood he looks like this:
I’ve heard of actors disappearing into their roles but I’ve never had so much trouble identifying an actor in my life. And discovering I’ve watched him in three separate roles without recognizing him is rather disconcerting. Either I’m slipping in my old age…or he really is able to change his appearance and mannerisms so much that he is unrecognizable to the trained eye.
Hmph. Perhaps you can see why I’ve spent the week obsessing and ferreting through films and TV series to try and discover what makes this particular actor tick. He doesn’t have a persona that is identifiable. He hasn’t been typecast yet in one particular role or another, and that is certainly intriguing. He’s not the Hollywood standard for attractive either which is appealing and somewhat mystifying. He’s not thin and feminine. But he’s not short, stout and muscled either. He’s tall, solid and a bit beefy. Which is my default attractive man.
He’s puzzling and I don’t often find that in my actor-crushes. Oh, there have been many. I shall name them here:
1. Ewan McGregor (on-going since Moulin Rouge)
2. Clive Owen (since Closer, though I loathed the film)
3. James McAvoy (Atonement)
4. Audrey Tatou (Amelie)
5. Milla Jovovich (Resident Evil)
You can see that I tend to stray towards foreign, white and mostly men. These are actors and actresses that I’ve developed serious crushes on and then immediately started devouring other films and TV appearances. This also occurred to a lesser degree with Seth Rogen, Michael Cera, Sam Rockwell and Ellen Page.
It’s in my nature to develop strong but short-term obsessions and interests. Perhaps this blog has made the general public aware of that. But it happens.
Work, family, friends, basic hygiene tends to fall away and I don’t emerge until a few weeks later – realizing I’ve totally been lost to something completely inane but seemingly world-alteringly important at the time.
Sometimes – it is something important. Like politics. Or a political cause. Or something creative (writing, comic books, photography, editing, knitting). But for the most part it’s Western European actors who bear the brunt of my insanity and addictive personality.
I suppose it’s healthier than crack cocaine.
What’s intriguing about this whole rambling entry…is how nervous I feel about exposing my interest in this genre. It’s REALLY not cool. Like, being a nerd is cool. But this is beyond nerdy and completely female and so stunningly NOT COOL. My inclination towards and affinity for English Dramas has been smoldering away in the dark recesses of my life for many years.
But it’s time to make that shit public. Not only do I like comic books and video games and sci fi television shows and horror movies…but I like insanely feminine shit. So feminine it’s FEMALE GAZEY. And the subsequent fanvids I’ve immersed myself in (complete with Sarah McLachlan vocal accompaniment) further push the bounds of female gaze. Without having to really alter the images much. It’s refreshing. Treading into these waters where we are allowed to look boldly at male faces, and even perhaps linger on their sexier features (hands, lips, teeth) is 100% awesome.
This will probably be a pleasant detour. Last month I was really hitting the Boston based films hard (The Town, Gone Baby Gone, Good Will Hunting, The Departed) and since there aren’t too many out there…that fizzled out pretty quick. Horror has been a slow burn for me this year. Aside from discovering the amazing My Bloody Valentine (1981) recently, I feel like I might have hit rock bottom with horror. There isn’t much left in the genre for me to devour outside of B-Films, which are not that enticing.
My request is that you (whoever you are) respond with your favorite period drama. It doesn’t necessarily have to be English. Far and Away is a great example of an American epic.
Epics can also be manly – Robin Hood 2010, The Pillars of the Earth, Kingdom of Heaven are manly epic films. I just want to know that I’m not alone. Cause I’m not. It’s a dirty secret that most of us don’t share with one another.
In the interim, here are a few awesome, hilarious and ridiculous Matthew Macfadyen fanvids. Cause nothing says squee like a fanvid:
With a few sexy videos thrown in for good measure: