Trust Us, It's Not Just The Accents: Our Favorite Cravat-Wearing Brits
Listen, you don’t need to be a 40-year-old kookaburra Cat Lady to appreciate a good British period piece. I mean, I’m sure it helps if you’re someone who enjoys knitting with cat hair, but it’s not necessary. A good bookishness does come in handy, though — an appreciation for Jane Austen, Charlotte and Emily Bronte and the like, for the clothes and the manners, for the longing looks and broken hearts. Even the most cynical among viewers can’t help but swoon, no doubt thanks to the plethora of British actors who have starred in one or more of the TV miniseries or film adaptations around, several of them on Netflix Instant for your guilty pleasure.
So, on this cold, three-day weekend, part of which you’re sure to be nursing a hangover, curl up with these delicious suitors and imagine untying their cravats.
Colin Firth — “Pride and Prejudice”: The Ultimate Period Piece Male. Firth’s Fitzwilliam Darcy can’t be beat, and this 1995 miniseries is the gold standard for adaptations. It can be found on female’s dorm room shelves just as easily as on those belonging to kookaburras. Darcy is haughty and cutting, but, oh — is that a sensitive side shining through? An attraction to strong-willed and assertive women? A need to take a swim in his pond and go striding about the grounds of Pemberley in a wet shirt? Indeed! And we all say “Amen.”
Alan Rickman — Sense and Sensibility: Probably the Second Ultimate, Rickman’s love-struck Col. Christopher Brandon is one of many things to love in this 1995 film. Here, we get to see Rickman flex his sensitive acting chops, abandoning the villains he’s known for and turning his attention to the young Marianne Dashwood (Kate Winslet). He isn’t a classic romantic lead, from his thin lips to his unusual voice and pronunciation of certain words (“picnic” comes to mind). But oh, he has plenty of soul.
Jeremy Northam — Emma: This version of Emma is not always the most popular given the presence of Her Royal Goopness, but Paltrow’s insufferable smugness lends itself perfectly to shallow, little Miss Woodhouse and she is helped enormously by the wonderful Jeremy Northam. Despite a badgery face and an impressively high ‘90’s pompadour, Northam sells us on one of Austen’s fussier heroes. When he says, “Badly done, Emma,” we squirm right along with her.
Damian Lewis — “The Forsyte Saga”: Lewis is quite the Creeper in this miniseries, based on John Galsworthy’s novels about the sprawling Forsyte family from the 1870s to the 1920s. His character, Soames, snivels and schemes, but one can’t help sympathizing a bit with the emotionally stunted man. Well, until he starts scaring the bejeezus out of his wife. Lewis performs with such intensity, however, that he’s hard not to watch. And with co-stars Rupert Graves and Ioan Gruffudd, it’s a lovely package deal of pretty.
Tom Hardy — “Wuthering Heights”: You have to have charisma to spare to pull off one of the biggest assholes in all of English literature. But Hardy’s ludicrous pillow lips twist so easily into sneers of rage and pouts of despair that it’s hard not to feel for him. In fact, he maintains some grudging shred of our sympathies right up until the puppy strangling.
James McAvoy — Becoming Jane: OK, this isn’t a great film. But McAvoy’s presence distracts one from the distressing idea of Anne Hathaway portraying a young Jane Austen. This Scottish chap is good in everything, and here he does his best to rise above the material as he portrays Tom Lefroy, an unsuitable societal match for Austen but one she can’t forget. We’ll forgive him his froppy hairstyle and focus on those blue eyes.
Matthew Macfadyen — Pride & Prejudice: Joe Wright’s 2005 adaptation of Austen’s classic is fairly divisive among nerds — Joanna detests it, while Sarah doesn’t mind it at all. Ignore Keira Knightley’s bizarre over-pronunciation of things and focus on Macfadyen’s Darcy. He plays the role differently than Firth and others have, giving the character a shyness about him, mixed with social awkwardness, that explains his aloof and rude tendencies. He doesn’t go for dips in ponds, but he does deliver a long half-open-shirted scene walking across a field to a waiting Elizabeth. Perfect.
Michael Fassbender — Jane Eyre: As we all know, Michael Fassbender has had quite a year. But between the big budget, cool cache of X-Men: First Class and the hip indie cred of Shame, he donned the cravat and mutton chops to play the glowery Mr. Rochester. Once again, it’s hard to have sympathy for Bronte heroes — they’re such manipulative, selfish creatures — but it’s equally hard to be indifferent to Fassbender as he torments himself and others. Oh yes, even you, blind, bearded Rochester. We wouldn’t kick you out of bed. (And yes, we know he’s not British. But what’s a list without Fassbender?)
Sean Bean — “Anna Karenina”: In this umpteenth adaptation of Tolstoy’s classic, Bean comports himself with the same stiff, upright military demeanor that made both Sharpe and Boromir such compelling characters. As one of Russia’s most famous philanderers, Count Vronsky, Bean is equal parts charm and inner turmoil.
Jonny Lee Miller — Mansfield Park: Jonny Lee Miller was something of a big deal in the mid-’90s, not only starring in both Hackers and Trainspotting, but also enjoying the position of Mr. Angelina Jolie long before she was even a twinkle in Brad Pitt’s eyes. But, for many of us, his performance as the sensitive, saintly Edmund Bertram is what endures. Though Edmund is a particularly soppy Austen hero, JLM pulls the job off with aplomb, setting Regency hearts a-flutter when he eventually realizes that the clever Fanny Price is the one for him.
Simon Woods — “Cranford”: The true magic of this 2007 miniseries is, of course, the heart-melting interactions between the old biddies of this Northern town. But no BBC production is complete without some PYT to swoon over and, in this case, it happens to be a fella. Simon Woods as Dr. Frank Harrison acts as drool bait for half the eligible young ladies in this series, and with his wide-eyed good looks and bumbling, Bambi-ish demeanor, he’s one dumb idea away from being a 19th century bimbo. He’s saved from mere eye candy status by the character’s medical knowledge and Woods’ endearing delivery.
Rupert Penry-Jones — “Persuasion”: The role of this Austen hero, Captain Wentworth, generally is cast older than Penry-Jones was in this 2007 adaptation, but thank goodness for his inclusion. As the jilted suitor of Anne Elliot (Sally Hawkins), Wentworth is still broken-hearted when the two reunite, eight years after she dumped him. But chemistry can’t be denied, can it? Subtle glances and hurt feelings abound, but perhaps it isn’t too late for these lovers. Penry-Jones needs to be in more things — no, all the things.
Richard Armitage — “North & South”: This tale has some “Pride and Prejudice” qualities to it — we’re on to you, Elizabeth Gaskell — but Armitage’s constant smoldering, even glowering, will transfix viewers into watching all four parts of this 2004 miniseries. His John Thornton is a stressed-out cotton mill owner in the north of England who can’t help but notice the young Margaret Hale (Daniela Denby-Ashe), a middle class woman uprooted from her southern home along with her family to the bleak town of Milton. She’s got spunk, and ideas about “labor laws” and “not beating your workers,” but class doesn’t always stand in the way of love.
Ben Whishaw — Bright Star Here we have straight-up literary crack. Or, better yet, hard-core Brit. Lit. porn. As the poet John Keats, Ben Whishaw is so exquisitely doomed, romantic, emotional and lovely that (spoiler alert) watching him die over and over is practically unbearable. But it’s worth the rewatch for Whishaw’s wistful delivery of Keats’ most famous poems, for his devotion to Abbie Cornish’s Fanny, and for the way he carelessly, effortlessly wears those worn out coats, britches and cravats. He is the end-all, be-all of tragic romanticism and irresistible to those of us susceptible to burning looks (that would be the fever), lyricism and star-crossed love.
Sarah Carlson and Joanna Robinson are pretty big nerds. And they’re OK with that.
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