Armitage barbatus, or: beard as costume, part 1

I fear how convoluted this might get but I’m going to try it anyway. When I saw the Thorin reveal I thought I saw how to tie a bunch of things together that have been in draft for a long time, some of them for over a year — either because I wasn’t prepared to confess to these things in public, like at the end of the “Armitage resartus” series, where I said I would talk about how I felt about his clothing transformation, and then never did (I do now, in part four of this series), or because a key event, like the Hobbit press conference, fell at an inconvenient time for me to publish something that I was satisfied with (I do this now, in part five), or because I hadn’t processed them. I beg your indulgence ahead of time in case this gets maudlin. Thanks also to the dear friend who started me down this path by remarking, when she saw video and pictures of Mr. Armitage at the Hobbit press conference in February, that he looked like he was in love.

Yeah, I love the beard, as much or more for what it does as for how it looks, and that perception colors everything I’ll say here.

This series has at least seven pieces, and five are finished now, but it’s getting long, so I am going to split them up to make digestion, and discussion, if desired, possible. I’ll link them up here as they appear. For the record, they are:

I. On Thorin Oakenshield (this post)

II. Richard Armitage on costumes

III. Never let them see you sweat, or: on the role of sprezzatura

Supplement to III: a side note on sprezzatura

IV. Silent, upon a peak in Darien: or, Armitage sprezzatura shows itself

V. Thorin sprezzatura

VI. Why we still need unbearded Armitage: a response to the critics and a rejoinder to myself

VII. Bearded Armitage at the Captain America premiere, or: the future of a costume


I. On Thorin Oakenshield

The long-awaited reveal of the visage of Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield.

All’s now right in Hobbit Country. TORn has decided to admit that he has acting skills, and they’ve even decided that he’s really modest.  Whew. I bet Peter Jackson’s relieved.

Shot from Project Magazine, August 2011. Source:

And all’s really right in Armitageworld, too. Fantastic additional stills of Armitage as Heinz Kruger from Captain America with the smoothest face we’ve ever seen him appeared this week. In contrast, though, other pictures of Armitage as himself in Project Magazine appeared, too, and though there have been naysayers, and many fans of smooth-faced Armitage [sanctuary here!] remain, the enthusiasm over the beardy Armitage seems unstoppable. Even judiang was eventually persuaded. Lots of discussion lately of the added charisma and energy that the beard seems to give Mr. Armitage in the posed photos, even among beard opponents. The bearded appearance at the Captain America premiere last night, where at least two fans got to meet him, generated even more images that stress energy, power, control.

But: Is it even the same guy? Look at the picture of Thorin. Prosthetics have been added, most obviously, to his hands, to make them look heftier; some mass has been added to the top of his face, and he’s been allowed to have furrows in his forehead and grey hairs in his beard; someone’s finally rubbed some tooth decay makeup onto those gleaming incisors; and, of course, there’s the wig. Somewhat less swooning about the reveal Sunday afternoon than about the Armitage pictures on Friday, although at least in the U.S. a lot of other things were happening, including the women’s world cup soccer final. And as the Hobbit fans told us, and judiang concedes is okay, dwarfs are not supposed to be sexy.

For the record, I don’t look at the Thorin picture and swoon, nor did I plan to — for me, sexual / voyeuristic thrill is a hugely gratifying side effect of Armitagemania, and though it’s been creatively productive, and thus one I wouldn’t want to miss, it’s not the cause. Sorting out this problem with regard to the beard confounded me for weeks. Yes, Servetus the woman loves beards and everything about them: the look, the scratch on her face, the stroking. Part of that certainly stems from a childhood in which the most important men in her life stopped shaving on opening day of deer season and started again on Easter. But Servetus the critic and Armitage fan really responds to this beard in a way that is separate from her physiological response. Or maybe it’s just that conceptual things also trigger an emotional effect for me.

So yeah, there are things I really like about it, chief among them the strong simplicity of the design. We see this in the costume above all, which takes the opposite aesthetic from Robin Hood, which seemed to pile on more and more ornamentation as the series continued. I liked the Robin Hood costumes, but they screamed “camp” from the very beginning and just screamed it louder as the series moved on. Here, in contrast, the lines are clean and strong, and the black tones draw attention toward rather than away from Armitage’s face, and this effect is decisive for me: a serious fantasy rather than a parody. For me, if I had to pick a source for the things that stick out to me, the flex of the tip of his nose notwithstanding, something we regularly saw in Guy of Gisborne, this is Thorin as Thornton.

Foreshadowing of things to come? Thornton’s (Richard Armitage) brooding stare in a publicity still from North & South. Source:

Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) stares out of the window of his house as the strikers leave Marlborough Mills in episode 2 of North & South. Source: Armitage’s whites make Thornton appear even more proud and resentful.

Because, above all: I feel like whoever designed this appearance for Thorin really understood the strengths of Armitage’s face, the things that make it compelling despite its occasionally unconventional moments: the very clean lines of jaw and cheek, which the makeup and wig elongate; the striking skin – hair contrast, which the wig picks up nicely without overdoing it in the way I always felt that the Lucas North / Spooks makeup and hair color did; the way that the prominence of the nose can outline a mood, especially the tip, when he draws it down in a grimace; and most particularly, the eyes, and their placement in the eye socket such that we can often see the lower half of the whites of them. Indeed, the overarching lines of the photo put the eyes and darkened, brooding eyebrows in parallel to the light, silver arc of the sword — so that eyes and sword are the main things that stick in my mind when I turn my eyes from the picture.

A side note: I felt like there’s something akin here to the process by which John Rhys-Davies was made into Gimli. In contrast to Armitage’s simplicity with the eyes as the penetrating feature, Rhys-Davies has a very busy face, where the eyes are a smaller part of everything that’s going on, and the design for Gimli’s appearance also seemed to recognize this fundamental visual quality in its complexity.

Richard Armitage in Project Magazine, August 2011. Source: Or is it Thorin? The mirror image seems to tell us the real story here: Eyes in shadow at all times, Armitage’s clothes, Thorin’s braid in his hair.

I think we might be tempted to put these photos in two different categories: Armitage as Armitage and Armitage as Thorin. Another thing I’ve been reading a lot is that in these photos (and other appearances like them), Armitage is “channeling Thorin.” I admit that I don’t know what the latter means, exactly: are people who say that claiming that he is playing Thorin in these situations, in the same way that he described himself as going to the audition for Sparkhouse in character? I don’t know what else it can mean — it’s not like there’s a Thorin somewhere in the cosmos that one can tap into at will — but if that’s what’s being argued, I probably disagree at least somewhat. Anyway, I want to make a slightly different point about what I think’s been going on since February or so. I think these two sets of images bear a strong potentiating relationship to each other, or rather that they reflect something, a transformative process, that appears to be going inside of Armitage in both cases. There’s a mutual feedback loop here that seemed obvious to me when I saw his behavior on the red carpet in LA. A shorthand description might suggest that if you think that Armitage channels Thorin lately, it’s also Thorin channeling Armitage here. Showing how and why — and answering the questions below — are the purposes of the rest of this series.

The questions these photos, and indeed of much of what we’ve seen since February, lead me to ask: What is the role of facial hair as a costume? And what qualifies a particular option as an effective one? When does a beard really “fit”? When is it so effective that it begins to have a multiplier effect? What does the beard “do” for Armitage?

To Part 2: On costumes

~ by Servetus on July 21, 2011.

20 Responses to “Armitage barbatus, or: beard as costume, part 1”

  1. Oh, I’m so glad you’ve posted. Can’t wait to read the rest. But you should know I *cough* qualified my *ahem* qualifier in my post today. Because I can’t leave well enough alone, that’s why. 😉

    When we say he’s channeling Thorin, we mean he seems to be exuding the same fierce mercurial qualities you would expect in Thorin during that photo shoot, since we know that’s not his usual presentation. Since he has said he tends to half stay in character while working on a project, it seems he continues to carry those qualities with him presently.


  2. […] video blog because Richard Armitage appears throughout. Also, check out RAFrenzy’s and servetus’ blogs for their screencaps and […]


  3. Excelent post, as usual. I love the way you write and the way you so brilliantly express what I think and couldn’t ever put into words the way you do.
    Can’t wait to read the rest.
    Hugs from Portugal 🙂


  4. I also like when Servetus posts a series but I don’t know why this introduction makes me dread the conclusions ahead.

    Off to read 2nd part.

    OML *shrugs*


    • not sure. I’ve been in a bad mood for awhile and that might be reflected here, as well as my perception that this is a kind of contentious issue — I don’t know if you’ll like the conclusions, but I think there are pieces you’ll enjoy.


      • I always enjoy your posts whether I agree or not.

        I just had to write my first impression because I felt it quite strong and needed to express it in order to ‘letting it go’.

        OML 🙂


  5. I am in a very bad and sad mood at the moment – [EDITED FOR SPOILER.] I am sorry, but I can’t discuss beards right now.


  6. So far, I agree with you, Servetus, except with the beard. I fear beards a bit in general, but exceedingly like the short one on RA (the exception from the rule).
    Like onemorelurker I “dread the conclusions ahead” ;o)
    I hope the sun comes out for you soon and everything clears up. Perhaps the posts will help. All the best to you!


    • yeah, if you don’t like beards in general, I’m arguing for the beard in whatever form it appears in, so you may disagree. But it will be interesting getting there, I hope 🙂 And I have a long section forthcoming on the smooth face, as well, and why we have to see it from time to time.


  7. […] One; Part […]


  8. […] Part I is here. […]


  9. […] One, Two, Three, and supplement to Part […]


  10. […] case you’re worried that the blog will change significantly this month: don’t. The beard series will continue! Servetus will continue her squee and her fangrrling! Commentary and analysis, such […]


  11. […] (apparent ratio messup notwithstanding) and turned again to formulating my next post in the Armitage barbatus series, which got hijacked by my move, but which I will finish or bust! And part of it was that I […]


  12. […] the first pictures of Thorin were published, I wrote that I liked the look because I felt it corresponded with the natural architecture of Mr. Armitage’…. Looking at that first picture above, we can see the way that the built-up supraorbital ridge […]


  13. […] to write a post about the aesthetic features of The Beard, but in trying to re-enter my “Armitage barbatus” series, I thought it would be a useful […]


  14. […] else in most of the photos of Thorin from this sequence. Something that I completely disdained when the first images of Thorin started to surface in July of 2011 — something that, although I didn’t write it at the time, I thought was […]


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