Speaking with his hands [Spooks 9 spoilers]

Spring Break … a ton of stuff on my mind, and a whole week to think in the absence of constant deadlines and maybe write about it a bit. I’m feeling calmer already. Need to fanstravagate this afternoon so I’m ready for next week, but couldn’t leave out mentioning that I rewatched Spooks 9.1 last night. (Original reactions here; the ethics theme I noted regarding Harry and his resignation hit me just as hard or harder last night as it did in September.) This isn’t going to be a full scale re-review at this point; I know that my reactions to Spooks 9 were less negative than those of some people and I need to do a comprehensive re-watch and comment at some point, but this isn’t it, yet. Last night I just put the disk in the player in hopes of regaining a little bit of sanity (also watched the Spooks 6 disk I had and put it in the mail this morning. With luck I’ll be done watching the Spooks backstory by the end of March).


Last night I was really noticing Mr. Armitage’s hands. There are two really nice hand shots in particular here:

On his way to assassinate Hussein Abib, Lucas North (Richard Armitage) discovers a woman he at this point thinks is a supercargo prostitute (Sophia Myles) lurking in the hallway, in Spooks 9.1. My cap.

There’s something really intricate about the way Mr. Armitage uses his hands to act — they alone, without his face, can signal gentleness, reassurance, but also violence, frustration, scorn. I think that’s why we see so many closeups of them in his work. I know that the North & South director was really focused on the use of hands as a social signal, but it’s striking how much of Armitage’s work ends up showing great pictures of his hands. The people who photograph him must be noticing this as well.

Here’s another:

Lucas North (Richard Armitage) offers the woman he now knows as Beth Bailey (Sophia Myles) an intentionally sarcastic contribution toward her trip back to London in Spooks 9.1. Source: Richard Armitage Central Gallery

Later in the episode we find out that he’s supposed to have given her 50 euros — the same amount that he offered to her “pimp” onboard the Hanover Star to spend a few hours with her (and which I remain convinced is less than the going price). I’m sorry to say — underlining my ongoing disappointment with Spooks‘ continuity — that whatever he may be giving here there, it is not a 50 euro bill. (The fifty is orange. I’ve always been grateful that it’s orange because I experience mild synesthesia and see odd numbers as warm colors, and in my warped brain, 5 is orange. 5 is also an “unfriendly” number for me, but at least it’s not cruel and hostile, like 9.) Let’s be charitable and have it be a bunch of euro bills with a twenty or a five on the outside. Anyway, love the extreme prominence not only of the MCP on the thumb (I’ve discussed this before) but also on the index finger, which seem to enhance the vehemence of the gesture. Armitage really understands the blocking of his body, I think.

During the Moscow location shoot for Spooks 7.7, Richard Armitage discusses a shot with the crew. Source: Radio Times

I do, somewhat unusually, have something mildly critical to say about his use of his hands in one scene of 9.1. (I know, you didn’t think I could do it.) Lucas is not a hand speaker — that is, while we often see pictures of Mr. Armitage speaking with his hands, as here —

Richard Armitage, interviewed on the topic of the (then) new character of Lucas North, from the extras in the Spooks 7 DVD set. Source: Richard Armitage Net

— Lucas tends to do that only at moments of very extreme emotion. This choice on Armitage’s part — the decision to make Lucas in normal operation or even in slightly stressful situations very physically controlled — Armitage’s choice to ground Lucas’s physicality in extreme stillness that contrasts with a sudden capacity to spring into motion when needed, which results in a highly compressed gestural repertoire — has meant that Lucas’s appearances on screen generate a magnetic effect on the viewer, who is always asking herself, with a certain amount of suspense, “when will he move?” and “what will it mean when he does?” As a result, Lucas’s hand motions often generate shock or surprise in the viewer. Two examples of this that pop to mind immediately:

She’s just my girlfriend!” Lucas North (Richard Armitage) yells at Oleg Darshavin after Sarah Caulfield’s unexpected entry into Lucas’s flat, in Spooks 8.4. Source: Richard Armitage Net

Above, the hand flies up so quickly that it almost reads as a defensive gesture and in the original scene you can see the cameraperson and then the editor using the energy of that move to shift the shot toward Oleg. Or here:

Lucas North (Richard Armitage) insists to Sarah Caulfield that he’s going to intercept the man he thinks is a rogue CIA operative rather than shooting him, in Spooks 8.6. Source: Richard Armitage Central Gallery

Here, the gesture is a sign of an unwillingness to hear further argument from Sarah or engage in it anymore — it almost says, “leave me alone.” In the end, moreover, Armitage’s ability to keep Lucas’s hands so still ultimately does him the favor of making Lucas’s classic hand-to-face for extreme distress signal much more effective.

Extreme distress, normal: Lucas North (Richard Armitage) reacts to Elizaveta’s explanation of the dilemma the FSB have put them in regarding Section D’s attempts to prevent a planned terrorist bombing in Spooks 7.4. Source: Richard Armitage Central Gallery

Extreme distress, extreme: Lucas North (Richard Armitage) reacts to pressure from Vaughn regarding Albany in Spooks 9.7. Source: Richard Armitage Net

I think that I might tend to read hand-to-face as a gesture that’s too emotional to be completely convincing, except that Armitage uses it so carefully and sparingly, and keeps his hands in check elsewhere, that when his hands do move I am glued to the screen. So in 9.1, I was a bit confused when I saw this, during Lucas’s conversation with Harry after returning to England:

Lucas North (Richard Armitage) argues with Harry in Spooks 9.1. Source: Richard Armitage Central Gallery

A few frames later. Source: Richard Armitage Central Gallery

Don’t get me wrong, I totally fall for guys who talk with their hands; it is extremely sexy, indeed entrancing. It doesn’t make me respect Richard Armitage or his work less that I don’t feel the employment of Lucas’s hands works well in this scene. I just think that this was a point where this particular performance, or perhaps it’s just the shot of the scene chosen by the editor (who might have had a stiller option to choose from but didn’t take it) interferes with Armitage’s otherwise secure characterization of Lucas. Armitage appears not to be as completely “in” Lucas here as he usually is. Or maybe Lucas is just more upset in this scene than I read him being.

Finally, gotta say that this episode is extremely well edited, and that this became clearer when I could watch it on a television screen that was several feet away from my eyes (as opposed to on my computer screen, which is about fifteen inches away). In particular, really liked:

Harry Pearce (Peter Firth) stands after his poisoning of the previous Home Secretary, Nicholas Blake (Robert Glenister) in Spooks 9.1. My cap. The shot really shows Harry’s capacity for callousness once he’s made a decision in a nicely concrete way.

and this one:

Lucas North (Richard Armitage) signals his readiness to move to Dmitri as the latter walks by to “check out a ballast pump” in Spooks 9.1. Source: Richard Armitage Central Gallery. In this scene they edited in a quarter-of-a-second shot twice to signal the interaction between Dmitri and Lucas. Very effective in conveying tension. Also a great shot of Armitage’s face.

Wow, I can’t say how good finally getting to write something substantive about Richard Armitage made me feel today. Almost like the old Servetus …

~ by Servetus on March 13, 2011.

43 Responses to “Speaking with his hands [Spooks 9 spoilers]”

  1. Do you think that he was starting to incorporate a little of John Bateman in–although of course Bateman hadn’t been “triggered” yet.
    I really did like Alpha Lucas in this first ep, before things started going south for me personally . . .

    Re blocking of his body, having now seen him dance so beautifully, I can see why the man is a master of body language in his acting. And those beautiful, expressive hands are surely too good to pass up incorporating into characters when it is suitable. I LOVE the way he uses his hands in interviews. I am a hand talker, too, just ask my former students.

    Well, glad to see “Old Servetus” back, too, enjoying writing about Mr. Armitage. 😉


    • incorporating John Bateman — I was wondering that, too. Although this scene takes place before we know that JB exists. I know they don’t shoot in order. It’s an interesting problem.

      I agree — seeing that dance rehearsal video gave us a lot of insight into his other work.

      Writing this today sort of reminded me of one of the general problems I was dealing with before I started writing this blog — no time ever to think. In the end it’s the face that I can have a coherent thought that makes me think I am human …


      • Yeah, after hearing that they shot a lot of it out of order, it made me more aware of the possibilities glimpses of “John” might be popping up where we wouldn’t habe necessarily expected him. Who knows? I just know they truly threw a tremendous challenge at the guy with this concept of theirs for S9, and it’s amazing it all turned out as well as it did. Still arguing it would have devolved into a complete farce in lesser hands . . .


  2. You are very brave to watch series 9 again. I only could bear (just!) “The Downfall of Lucas North” while cursing Kudos for insiting that Lucas become bad. I am sure, that I’ll enjoy your analyses. 🙂

    Anyway, I was very fond of this first episode with Lucas in his John Porter clothes. Come to think of John – I sincerely hope the Spooks writers don’t lay their hands on him. In that case he’ll probably give himself up to the Iranians, convert to Islam, train as a suicide bomber and blo up 10 Downing St. :-<

    Oh, and Harry, you are a bloody hypocrite. You are not judge and jury, but a murderer.


    • From what they said in that interview, writing for Spooks 9 didn’t give them much extra time, so I am hoping they’ll be far too busy trying to salvage Spooks 10 to do anything awful to John (as far-fetched as I would normally think your scenario, Nietszche, after S8, not really 😦 )
      And I have to confess I share your views of Harry Pearce as well. A huge hypocrite of a character. Yes, yes, I know he is dearly loved by many in the Spooks fandom, I am just not one of them.


      • You know, I dislike the, well, whoever was responsible for S9, let’s say just those people, for making me dislike Harry and even Ruth. Sometimes in the series I just wanted to scream beacuse she was in danger of becoming a Mary Sue. They averted the danger, but still. And of course Harry is not a teddy bear, but making him murder the home secretary? Come on, people…


        • In my view, they really screwed with the characters in this series, most significantly with Lucas, of course *grrrrrrrrrrrr* but also with Harry and Ruth. I agree, even as good an actress as Nicola is, Ruth was in danger of becoming the dreaded Mary Sue.
          What will they do with her in S10, one wonders? I can’t see Alchie Alec being a leader I could put my trust in, and frankly Dimitri and Beth still seem to need their training wheels as spies. Frankly, they’ve left the section in shambles.


          • I won’t know as I won’t watch it.


            • Oh, I won’t watch, either. Lucas (can’t think of him as John) is gone but never forgotten (and SND in my little Sloth Fic universe) and I am done with the show. But I know people who will watch it and I am sure I will hear about it . . . and it’s quite mean-spirited of me but I hope it flops. There. I’ve admitted it.


  3. Lucas in John Porter clothes, mmm, though he does suit those black and blue clothes so nicely!

    Those hands are the most elegant and beautiful in the acting universe IMHO!

    Spooky writers, keep away from Porter or my wrath will know no end! 😦


  4. I think putting Lucas in JP’s cloths was a very bad idea. It made him too vulnerable to the accusation that he is always the same in all his roles. The roles/shows already were very similar, leading to the impression that he can do nothing else, but emphasizing that by the same cloths? On top of that his “stillness” and “highly compressed gestural repertoire” as Lucas made many people perceive him as wooden even if it was appropriate for the character and intentionally.


    • I can’t imagine that they did that intentionally — one imagines that in desert climes the clothing is lighter in shade and that a man who dressed in jeans and black shirts would stick out like a sore thumb. But I agree, it was a problematic outcome for Armitage.


  5. I have to say Jane as much as I didn’t like where they took Lucas in series nine the story line did allow him to spread his acting wings and most non RA fans recognised that he had done great things in portraying Lucas and John Bateman.

    I never think of the two characters John Porter and Lucas being alike. Lucas is very much more self contained and cerebral than John. Lucas is a thinker and planner far les physical than John Porter. John’s emotions are upfront and centre his angre barely controlled. lucas is like a coiled spring when he snaps it is explosive and quick and then the control is back.

    I love his hands as well I have great fun in my writing of descibing them.


    • Other than the fact one is in MI-5 and the other, MI-6 and they happen to resemble each other somewhat physically, I don’t think John Porter and Lucas North are in the least bit alike, either, Khandy.

      Once again, Richard created another stand-on-his-own character. Porter’s feelings are much more on the surface, he moves differently–they don’t even look the same to me in stills where they are wearing similar clothing. Porter is like a full out roaring lion on attack while Lucas is the stealthy black panther waiting for the moment . . .

      I like writing about his hands, too. 😀

      Also, if he does play another period dramatic hero, would we argue he is playing the same character over and over because the chap wears a cravat and sideburns? I am sure that new character would NOT (as much as some would wish it) be a re-tread of John Thornton, but a new creation.


    • Nice distinctions, khandy.


  6. Sev — I hope your spring break brings you rest and rejuvenation.
    His hands acutally make me are poetry. After reading this post, I instantly thought of this poem.

    Your Hands
    by Pablo Neruda
    When your hands go out,
    love, toward mine,
    what do they bring me flying?
    Why did they stop
    at my mouth, suddenly,
    why do I recognize them
    as if then, before,
    I had touched them,
    as if before they existed
    they had passed over
    my forehead, my waist?

    Their softness came
    flying over time,
    over the sea, over the smoke,
    over the spring,
    and when you placed
    your hands on my chest,
    I recognized those golden
    dove wings,
    I recognized that clay
    and that color of wheat.

    All the years of my life
    I walked around looking for them.
    I went up the stairs,
    I crossed the roads,
    trains carried me,
    waters brought me,
    and in the skin of the grapes
    I thought I touched you.
    The wood suddenly
    brought me your touch,
    the almond announced to me
    your secret softness,
    until your hands
    closed on my chest
    and there like two wings
    they ended their journey.


    • Thank you for the poem @Rob. I love Pablo Neruda, what a perfect poem for RA’s beautiful hands.

      I love that RA speaks with his hands (I do too).


      • @ Rob: A beautiful poetical tribute from one of my favourite poets!
        @Musa: I’ve only read him in English translations. It must enhance the experience to read him in the original!


        • @MillyMe – yes, even when it’s a very good translation, there is no substitute for the original language, more in poetry I think than in prose. But it’s a beautiful poem in any language.

          Here’s a link to the poem being read in Spanish – gives an idea of the sound of the language 🙂

          Would be wonderful if RA would read and record some of Neruda’s love poems in English 🙂


          • I listened to this beautiful recording as I read the poem in English. I could actually make out quite a few words as I did French at school. Her voice does justice to the poem!


          • The rhythm of Spanish poetry always fascinated me; I think it’s because it diverges so strongly from the often dominant iambic pattern in English.


    • Beautiful poem and worthy of those elegant, strong and yet tender hands of Mr. Armitage’s.


    • I didn’t know this one, many thanks.


  7. I love his hands (eyes and hands are two things that always pay attention when I meet someone 😉 ). However, RA hands are so beautiful, on the one side, very gently on the other extremely powerful in expression. I really admire his ability to express emotion, even a minimal gesture.
    After I saw as he danced, I have to agree with Angie that he is a master of body language in his acting. I hope I am objective in what I say now, but he had already stood out among their peers. I’m not saying merely that it was high (OMG those arms), but even then its precision of movement is amazing for me. Seeing how he then moved (as he danced), easier for me to understand his acting. It definitely is the most talented man I’ve seen what


    • Ania, I have never seen anyone who impressed me more with his/her artistic gifts and the ability to use them to maximum effect.
      I think I can say that objectively, too, having been on this planet for 50 years, a life-long lover of the arts who has viewed many, many fine performers’ work with keen interest. Even putting aside my intense admiration for his good looks and charisma, he is one supremely talented individual. And yes, I thought he stood out in the group not just because of his size, but the precision and care he put into his performance–a precise attention to detail which has carried over into his acting.


  8. In the “hands” of another actor, some gestures (e.g. hand-to face) could emerge as melodramatic. They perhaps illustrate the classical training, tempered by Method. As utilised sparingly by RA, they are, indeed, effective.

    I will pre-order S9 as soon as available; not to enjoy Lucas, but because S9 is yet another evolutionary phase in the development of an actor. I want to study more closely the ability to handle the curve balls thrown by the benighted scriptors.


    • I think, one day, I may be at that point where I can order the DVDs. But not for a while.

      On a happier topic, yes, I believe RA mingles his classical stage training with Method acting and that wonderful dance experience to mould a performance that is spare and simple and wonderfully effective. Seeing him in those rehearsals answered certain questions for me about his approach to acting. Another piece fell into place in this beautiful, complicated puzzle known as Richard Armitage.


    • I think it may be worth it (along the lines of understanding the performance) just to see it on the larger screen. I noticed a lot of stuff in this rewatch that hadn’t struck me the first time.


  9. I couldn’t see LN and JP as similar characters, eithers, for reasons cited in your comments above. I do think that acting incorporates elements in a progressive way from a transition here to the there, as well as calling on other experiences and influences.

    But yes, in the business, image counts. And that goes for character costuming, too. At a superficial level, costume can be stereotyping.

    Do you recall an interview with RA, in which he mentioned that the MI5 PTB were banning LN/RH leather? And then they dressed him as a black- leather-clad courier?! (Channeling Ricky Deeming?) Seemed at bit of an in-joke, actually.


    • Re acting, it seems to me (if you are working on honing your craft) you’re constantly building on what has gone before and adding new information and experiences to what is already established, I would guess. It’s what I do with writing.

      I think there were a lot of in-jokes on the Spooks set. Lucas tugging off his glove with his teeth in that scene was certainly an homage to Guy (was it scripted, or did RA add that bit?), just as the outfit and motorcycle screamed Ricky Deeming. And the reference to Hobbit Land in S9 . . . and look at the way they worked Thornton into RH scripts. Seems to be a trend in some of his roles to recall previous roles . . .


  10. There is a strong element of association of thought/experience with acting. I’t with all of us. But strong in acting, which is as much a progress as is life.

    I LOVE “in-jokes”! Just part of “stalking” an actor through his/her work – and funny!


  11. Next to eyes, and in particular RA’s eyes, his hands are the most mesmerizing part of him. In every role he has played he has used them in such varied ways and I am also very fascinated by them in interviews when he is just being himself. One of the interviews that stands out for me was on one of the RH DVD Extras when he is talking about “Guy” and also his relationship with “Marion”. His hands seemed extra beautiful and extra expressive. I’m also drawn to people’s eyes and hands in general and notice them before anything else as it always seems to say so much about them. I talk with my hand too, although obviously not as eloquently as Richard does, in fact my Mom used to say that if she tied my hands I’d be speechless!!


    • It’s the combination of size and strength coupled with elegance, beauty and gracefulness and how expressively he uses them both in his roles and in RL that also fascinates me. Teuchter, one of my former students very impishly told me one day, “Madame Long, you would never be able to talk if we tied your hands behind your back . . .” Well, you know–I had to agree!! LOL I only wish my hands were as beautiful as his.


    • yeah, his hands will not hold still in the interview.


  12. Keeping in the tradition of being late to the party and off-topic Servetus, may I bring your attention back to the “she’s just my girlfriend” shot? Remember when you spoke of his generous rear and broad thighs? This pic is a good example of what you meant; I couldn’t see it before. His butt and thighs look broader than expected not only because of pronounced lordosis of the spine and musculature developed as a dancer, but because his abdomen is so concave and waist so small that the jeans lay flatter than flat and nip in the waist. Jeans aren’t cut for such a figure, male or female.


    • yes — this is a weird picture. His upper body posture is not usually that poor. He really looks strange in this shot and the jeans highlight it — this was not the jeans style for him. I was wondering if it were that Emil Hostina is so much shorter that the camera people ordered him to slouch (I think I’ve seen that in a few other places) — or maybe he’s trying to signal the extreme enervation of the moment by relaxing his upper body. But when his lower body is such a monolith, it seems counter productive.


  13. […] here — the way the parallelism of the fingers punctuates the points. Look again at that amazing MCP on the index finger. And, of course, the expression on Porter’s face: half anger, half […]


  14. […] Many of us have noted before that Richard Armitage acts with his hands. About a year ago, now, I detailed a very poignant example from Spooks 9.2, when Lucas / John is trying to find Maya by googling — a moment that may be unsurpassed in Armitage’s oeuvre thus far. I think what’s happening is that I’m starting to believe, when I watch Richard Armitage, that the acting gently with the hands as a way to be gentle is a real capacity that men might have. The convincing nature of many of these “everyman” roles has me extrapolating in the back of my mind from him to men in general. […]


  15. […] North (Richard Armitage) finally gets a silencer in Spooks 9.1. Armitage’s hands are especially expressive in this one. Source: […]


  16. […] Lucas North (Richard Armitage) about to signal the police to move in on the would-be terrorist cell, in Spooks 8.7. My cap. Mmmm, that MCP. […]


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