Clarissa 2: First impressions

Blogging from my office early on a Sunday morning with a cup of coffee and a scone. I cannot afford to spend the whole day writing about Mr. Armitage, but I probably will. Sigh.

I’ll say right away that I’m going to want to listen to this episode repeatedly; I only listened to the last one three or four times, but Mr. Armitage has a lot more to deal with in the script for this episode and correspondingly his performance shows a lot greater range than in the previous one.

Probably the most noticeable thing is the pitch of his voice. I thought this was interesting last time; if you listen to the duel scene in Episode 1 (which you can do via the excerpts that were graciously provided at RichardArmitageOnline), you’ll note that Armitage seemed to be abandoning his normal medium to high baritone in the first half of this excerpt for an attempt at a bass. He didn’t manage it all the way through; as Lovelace gets more and more annoyed with Clarissa’s brother the pitch of his voice rises into Armitage’s normal range. It’s hard to tell if this move is really conditioned by the demands of the script. It’s really hard to sustain a change in the pitch of your speaking voice over such long stretches, not least because it starts to hurt unless you have warmed yourself up significantly. In episode 2, he maintains the bass pitch much more successfully over longer periods, and it really does enhance our perception of the darkness of the Lovelace character.

Then there’s the singing. Lovelace is singing a morceau de salon for the company at the lodging house where he brings Clarissa, and Armitage brings this off well, i.e., the point is not that he is supposed to sound like a trained opera singer (in my opinion, comments about him being a fair singer notwithstanding, he’s quite obviously not trained for that and I don’t think his instrument would sustain it), but rather that he is staging himself as a cultured person for the benefit of an audience that is colluding in his attempt to ruin Clarissa’s virtue. Armitage does this perfectly.

Regarding the acting, there is a great deal of swoonworthiness, including lots of historicizing English endearments (“Dearest creature!”), some feigned gasping and sobbing on Lovelace’s part, but we also see a clearer picture of Lovelace’s character through sarcasm (“Charmer!”) and aggressive speech. There are several more letters to Lovelace’s friend that offer scope for the darker side, as well as conversations with the landlady.

So: another star performance here from Mr. Armitage, and a much lengthier, onerous one. As I listen to it more I’ll no doubt have more to say.

My biggest reaction at this point is to the script. I do think this is a strong adaptation. However, because episode 1 cuts out so much of the material we learn from Lovelace’s letters to characters other than Clarissa, we can think at the end of it that Lovelace actually on some level believes the stories he is telling Clarissa. This is not especially canonical but it makes Lovelace a more interesting character and it lobs an easy pitch into Armitage’s approach to acting, which involves looking for the inner contradictions in his characters. I wondered, however, if this style of adaptation didn’t rely too much on the fact that probable audience members were already familiar with the story and were likely to know already about Lovelace’s calumnies. Episode 2 obviously sweeps the possibility that Lovelace is an egoistic rather than a malicious villain, as we learn more clearly not only of Lovelace’s desire to deceive, but also of at least one possible reason why he is such a schmuck. One gets the sense of an increasing trap closing around Clarissa, and it makes the passionate love speeches of Lovelace ever more monstrous, gruesome and frightening as the narrative moves forward.

I look forward to episode 3.

Edited to add: I forgot to mention my reaction to the scene where Lovelace forces himself on Clarissa, but want to remind myself that I had one. More anon.

~ by Servetus on March 21, 2010.

4 Responses to “Clarissa 2: First impressions”

  1. Medium to high baritone? My ears must function differently….


  2. Thanks for your comment, fitzg! Were you figuring him for a bass? He’s not really a tenor. Remember that the class of voice is not contingent on one’s ability to hit different pitches, but upon where the passagio occurs (the break between chest and head voice) and in what range the voice achieves its greatest resonance (the so-called tessitura). I think he’s a mid to high baritone. Of course, I’ve never heard him vocalize so I could be wrong. All of the stuff I write is contingent on my perception of him from stuff on the web and DVDs, CDs, etc. I felt the lowering of pitch in this segment was akin to things he occasionally did as Guy of Gisborne, who sometimes lowers the pitch of his voice for dramatic affect, or in order to sound huskier.


  3. Just a quick response – bass, no! Not quite James Earl Jones! (giggle). Feel it’s a deep baritone, though, based also on Thornton. Again, per your comment on Guy, could have deliberate lowering for dramatic effect. Must listen to his interviews again.



    • Well, we’re only about a half octave away from each other. To some extent these observations also have a lot to do with my perception of his reading of Sylvester where he has to move through a lot of vocal ranges quickly. I don’t think he could do the women’s voices there quite so well if he were a low baritone, but I could be wrong!


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