Interpreting the Source

One of the themes implied in the previous post–the idea that taken together I, Mr. Armitage, and his roles are the source of myriad indeterminacies that I and viewers will not be able to resolve and are thus intellectually productive–will be a central topic of this blog. To introduce this point I want to discuss one of my favorite pictures of Guy of Gisborne, seen above. It is often screen-capped (I am clearly going to need to learn how to screencap and vid myself).

It shows up a fair amount in fan vids on youtube, and I’ve seen the image described (I don’t remember where–maybe in youtube comments) with the words “he looks like a fallen angel.” Actually, by this point in the canon of the BBC Robin Hood, halfway through series 1, Guy has hunted down Robin and co. with dogs, murdered the former master-at-arms of Nottingham Castle at the Sheriff’s command, abandoned his own infant child while lying to its mother about the infant’s whereabouts, presided over the cutting off of several hands and tongues of recalcitrant villagers, and pressed his unwanted romantic attentions on Marian. In that last attempt, and in a brief exchange with an abbess, we see potential decency in Gisborne, but the fundamental tenor of what we have seen of Gisborne as a character up to this point is evil. (On evil in RH, take this analysis as read.)

So this is Season 1, Episode 7 (“Brothers in Arms”), and Gisborne is about 10 seconds from stealing a necklace from one of his peasants who wishes to be married and has nothing with which to pay the fee. He’s looking down her neck as he removes it–her sole family heirloom. Later, he will give it to Marian (in another questionable attempt to obtain her regard), who will give it to Robin, who will return it to the original owner. When Guy notices it on the owner’s neck again, he will remove it violently and then discard it intentionally by giving it to a third party whose pawn shop activities facilitate collection of the Sheriff’s usurious taxes. He will then confront Marian with having given the necklace away, and although the near miraculous activities of Robin et al. will allow her to give him the necklace back and thus prove that she has not betrayed Guy, the damage will have been done and she will accept his aggressive marriage proposal, a step that the canon of the show wishes us to see as disastrous. (Because of the problems with the show’s depiction of evil referenced above, many fanfic writers became G/M shippers at an early point in the series despite Guy’s extreme cruelty, a trend that further underlines my general perception about the prevalence of indeterminacy in the reading of Guy and his relationship on screen.)

We thus see Gisborne at his worst in this episode, and this angelic face signals not a smile to come, but the theft and later the vicious wrenching of a silver necklace from his victim. He lowers his eyelids not in modesty or bliss, but in contemplation of the rapacious gesture he’s about to make. But for the viewer, evil functions here as the source of beauty. This problem is enhanced by Armitage’s acting style, which places a huge burden for the viewer on the expression in his eyes–which he can change without moving any other feature in his face. (Indeed, if I have found any fault in his acting, it lies in his occasional failure to think of other somatic indexes of emotion beyond the eyes). This mode is obviously important for a shooting style in which closeups place such a role, but it is dangerous, and I would argue that we often see the camera move away quickly from Armitage’s facial expression because the director/editors wish to protect us from the intensity of his face and from allowing it to overdetermine the narrative.

And then there is me. The first time I saw Gisborne rip the necklace off of the peasant girl I had almost physical reaction to his evil. And yet I am also seduced by the beauty of this image. Especially when I watch the episode frame by frame on my computer.

OK, time to stop for today. A lot of this will be developed further in posts to come.

~ by Servetus on February 26, 2010.

5 Responses to “Interpreting the Source”

  1. […] Armitage as Guy of Gisbourne, on the other hand, possesses everything Robin lacks, as my friend here ably argues. Not to mention three dimensions and an appealing set of inner conflicts between greed, […]


  2. I must agree with servetus. The lifted eyebrow says it all – almost a gloat. If he’s a fallen angel, he has a long way to travel bfore reaching redemption!

    Just to confuse us, the face in this photo is as beautiful as that of any Renaissance angel.


  3. Definitely, Fitzg, this could have been a (neo-)Renaissance portrait.


  4. […] a historian, I am a poststructuralist manqué. I have already stated in introducing myself that the main sources for this blog (me, Richard Armitage) are […]


  5. […] Judi and I agree on a great deal, as is probably already clear to anyone who’s read this blog for very long. Judiang says in her post that we should not be so worried about sexual objectification. I agree with the argument that hand-wringing about it is pointless, as I do with much of what she says there. For instance, I share her amusement about the apparent compulsion among many fans to insist, after the response to his beauty, that one is just as moved by his talent — although I would add that the fact that Armitage is “more than a pretty face” is a credible explanation for why we continue to watch him once we’ve become slightly more immune to the power of the pictures to flummox us. Moreover, I agree, on the whole, with the point that Armitage’s physical appearance is irretrievably part of his appeal and that his embodiment can’t be meaningfully separated from his acting talent, something I called “the Armitage morass.” I also share her opinion that Mr. Armitage’s appearance topless or nude from the rear reflects his own adult decisions (see section III of that very long post, entitled “Beauty as Problem”). And I’ve frequently compared Mr. Armitage’s physical appearance to various pieces of Italian art (like Judiang, to David, to mannerist style in which certain body elements become elongated to stress their sensuality or attractiveness, and very early on, very briefly, to Renaissance angel styles). […]


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