[Not so stiff] upper lip

This is the sort of post that I think Mr. Armitage would find unbelievably embarrassing if he were to read it. At least, if I thought people were looking at my body this closely I’d be crazy. Then on the other hand, I don’t have the body he has. I’ve read that he wishes things about his appearance were different.

So have you noticed that Armitage has a slightly abbreviated upper lip? It’s not obvious in portrait view, but appears quite strikingly in profile. I think this part of why his smiles are a bit, well, unconventional, and I will have something more to say about that later. Certain expressions we expect from our fellow humans appear a bit differently on a face with such a short upper lip. But for right now I want to direct attention to the upper lip specifically and argue that its briefness enhances the intensity of certain facial expressions in key scenes.


Richard Armitage as Paul Andrews in Between the Sheets, Episode 6; Source: Richard Armitage Central Gallery

For instance: The fact that the upper lip appears to be stretched to the limit, but without muscular exertion, underlines the depiction of arousal, i.e., it intensifies the expression of surprise and pleasure on the character’s face in response to the surprise sexual move he’s responding to.

For instance:


Richard Armitage as Mr. Thornton in North & South, episode 4. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

The placement of the upper lip here–as if the face were too tired to lift it any further–intensifies the expression of exhaustion / desperation on Mr. Thornton’s face as he works late and watches the workers leave at the end of the shift, knowing he’ll stay longer.

For instance:

Richard Armitage as Guy of Gisborne in Robin Hood, Series 2, Episode 6 “For England”; source: The Armitage Army [site defunct]

This is a really interesting moment. The Sheriff has just pushed the scribe off of the castle tower to his death and the camera follows the body down, then turns to Guy to see his reaction. The facial gesture is a wince, and the wince is really effective because it showcases something that Armitage doesn’t really have, i.e., lips. Because his lips are so thin, and the upper lip is so short, the camera can believably show all of the lip, which enhances the wince by fully revealing its sarcasm. That sarcasm is then enhanced in the very next frame where the wince expands briefly, one assumes as the body of the scribe hits the ground. If you look at enough screen caps of this scene, though, you’ll see a brief moment, just a flash, of regret on Guy’s face when Armitage lowers his lip only fractionally, marginally, in the minute afterwards,which pulls down his left cheek with it and makes him look regretful:

Richard Armitage as Guy of Gisborne in Robin Hood, 2.6. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

Richard Armitage as Guy of Gisborne in Robin Hood, 2.6. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

I could go on; snide and angry are both also enhanced by this lip construction. Right now, though, I have to meet with a student who plagiarized her last assignment.

[edited for link rot and to improve some images, 7/26/15]

~ by Servetus on March 12, 2010.

7 Responses to “[Not so stiff] upper lip”

  1. […] upper lip sighting Referencing earlier discussion of the effectiveness of the abbreviated upper lip in enhancing our perception of emotion, […]


  2. […] Collinson’s hair. Makes you wanna play “I got your nose!” And it’s another abbreviated upper lip sighting. Yum. Also love how those curls at the nape of the neck and the slight disarray in the […]


  3. […] abbreviated upper lip sighting that establishes the emotionality of his […]


  4. […] abbreviated upper lip, which increases the impact of his emotionality any time he opens his mouth, even […]


  5. […] noted before the potential of that amazing upper lip and what it gets him in different settings, and we see that again here. He gets more out of that upper lip than any other actor I’ve […]


  6. […] and by Guy’s black clothing. I could talk about the stark emotionality of Armitage’s abbreviated upper lip, or the simultaneous hardness and vulnerability he signals at the labial commissures (the latter […]


  7. […] making that emotion much more intense for the viewer. Guy in particular was great at that gesture (as, for example, in 2.6), using Armitage’s brief upper lip to combine scorn and fatigue in his […]


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