Why Richard Armitage had to be beautiful

Richard Armitage as John Thornton in a publicity still for North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com


When last I left you, in the narrative of how Armitagemania hit, I was sitting in the dark, having just turned on North & South. These expository posts on the series that I’ve been publishing lately explore the way that I was fascinated by the work / principles narrative of the piece, but I’ve left out the kind of emotional explosion that kept me watching despite the difficult themes (mostly because when I tried to write this earlier, I got stuck. Now I’m unstuck).

I’ve emphasized that my appreciation of North & South was / is not about the love story because I think it’s natural to attribute the sudden all-attention-encompassing reaction to an effect not unlike the rubbing of a numbing salve on top of a particularly traumatized patch of skin. That was my approach to North & South that night, too, when I was clawing my way through my bag — anything to soothe the pain, please. Anesthetized on Armitage? Okay. I know a lot of people have that reaction — people frequently tell me they watched North & South to soothe themselves — and that’s completely legitimate. Still, if that had been the whole reason for my obsession, its effect would hardly have lasted so long, nor do I think that Armitagemania specifically would have been the result. I would have gone looking for other romances and other soothing dramas. In contrast, as I’ve mentioned before, I watched it not because it calmed me down, but because it woke me up. In the end, my fascination with the series had to do with the confluence of its content and what Richard Armitage did in the role of Mr. Thornton, the way he portrayed particular narrative choices in the script. It took me months to realize all the facets of that relationship. If what I sought that night was an anesthetic, what I got instead, completely inadvertently, was a tonic, one that I took for weeks, one that has brought me, the last two years and more, alternately to joy and to tears.

I’ve said before that the meaning of certain kinds of experiences sometimes lies in the sort of other experiences they facilitate, as, for me, the rush that comes from thinking about certain issues in the context of sexual fantasies makes it okay to explore them. In this case, I kept taking the tonic, and exposing myself to a drama about issues that troubled me deeply, because they came with a jolt that similarly made it okay: Richard Armitage’s beauty.


Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) confronts a rose at Helstone, in episode 4 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com


As soon as I apply that adjective to Mr. Armitage, I step onto tricky terrain. First, a definition of “beauty” is not part of this post, and I would never assert that beauty is an objective, timeless standard or that different people react to beauty uniformly. I emphatically do not believe that people who are not beautiful or who are less beautiful by whatever individual or cultural standard do not act well or move audiences or that all actors must or should be physically attractive in order to be successful. Nor am I saying that if Richard Armitage suddenly or gradually became less so, he would be less talented, or even that I would find his work less meaningful. (No pressure, Mr. Armitage; do what you wish with your appearance.) Importantly: in none of what I say below do I claim to speak for any other fan than myself.

In other words: this post solely concerns me, the kinds of aesthetic judgments I am normally inclined to make, how my vicarious experience of Armitage’s beauty affected me under particular circumstances, and the intersection of all of this with the apparent coincidence that he was playing Mr. Thornton when I saw North & South the second time.

It’s a post about why and how Richard Armitage was beautiful for me — and why I needed him to be.


Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) follows Margaret’s departing carriage with his eyes in episode 4 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com


What’s beautiful about Richard Armitage in North & South?

(How do I love thee? Let me count the ways!)

The pale skin; the contrast of skin with hair.

Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) reassures Mr. Bell (Brian Protheroe) at the Thorntons’ dinner party in episode 2 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

The faint stubble all over that speaks of virility and fatigue, sometimes at the same time.

Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) explains to his mother that he must propose to Margaret, in episode 2 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

The firm, confident gaze;

Mr. Thornton discusses the merits of factory improvements with his fellow manufacturers in episode 1 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

the pronounced lower eyelid fold;

Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) thinks of Margaret while listening to the police talk about their pursuit of the strikers, in episode 2 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

the fine lines around his eyes.

Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) encounters Daniela Denby-Ashe at the train station in episode 4 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

The modest glance, downward;

Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) accepts a cup of tea from Margaret in episode 1 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

the modest glance, up from under the brow;

Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) begins to tell the Hales his life story, in episode 1 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

the powerful glance;

Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) informs Higgins of the conditions under which he makes his offer of work, in episode 4 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

the helpless glance;

Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) watches as his workers leave the mill to strike, in episode 2 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

the concerned glance;

Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) expresses concern about Margaret’s health in episode 2 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

the imperious glance;

Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) is introduced to Margaret (Daniela Denby-Ashe) by Mr. Hale in episode 1 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

the tender glance;

Mr. Thornton, in the second before he kisses Margaret (Daniela Denby-Ashe) in episode 4 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

the anguished glance;

Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) expresses his frustration over Margaret’s unwillingness to explain her presence at the train station, in episode 3 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

the subtly seductive glance — or maybe we should call it arresting;

Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) informs Margaret that the roses are still in Helstone, in episode 4 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

the annoyed glance;

Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) overhears Fanny practicing her singing in episode 1 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

the kind glance;

Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) glances down at a reading Tommy Boucher in episode 4 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

the loving and beloved glance;

Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) submits to the praise and tie adjustments of his mother (Mrs. Thornton) in episode 1 of North & South. Source: Richard ArmitageNet.com

the veiled glance;

Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage), after seeing Margaret enter the Lyceum Hall, in episode 1 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

the amused glance.

Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) responds with wry dismissal of his mother’s suggestion that Margaret Hale would be interested in him, in episode 1 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

The long, long eyelashes.

Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) responds to Margaret’s attempts to prevent his proposal, in episode 2 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

The line, the crook of his highly mobile eyebrows.

Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) tells Fanny he wishes she would try to befriend Margaret, in episode 2 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

The bridge of his nose, surrounded by muscles that make it a primary index of emotionality;

Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) contemplates how to respond to Margaret’s lies to Mason in episode 3 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

The prominent nose itself, which appears distinctive from the side …

Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) walks through his mill at the end of episode 1 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

.. but finely drawn, regal, delicate from the front;

Margaret (Daniela Denby-Ashe) introduces Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) to Henry Lennox, in episode 3 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

The monumental wings of his nose.

Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) looks out the striking workers assembled in his millyard, in episode 2 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

The high, sensitive forehead; the distinctive frontalis, working with the forehead to make it easy for him to look overwrought or angry or emotional or engaged.

Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) informs Margaret Hale (Daniela Denby-Ashe) of his priorities with regard to his workers in episode 2 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

The lock of hair across his forehead;

Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) turns to Ann Latimer, seated at his right, to conclude the disturbing conversation about the strike at the Thorntons’ dinner party, in episode 2 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

the tiny scar.

Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) talks to Henry Lennox (John Light) as Mr. Latimer (Will Tacey) looks on, in episode 3 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

The cupid’s bow upper lip;

Mr. Bell (Brian Protheroe), Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage), Higgins (Brendan Coyle) and Mary (Kay Lyons) exit from the church after Mrs. Hale’s funeral, in episode 3 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

  the gentle way he places his lips together;

Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) visits Higgins to offer him work, in episode 4 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

the labial commissures;

Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) looks contemplatively after Higgins after refusing him employment, in episode 4 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

the sudden fury with which he moves his entire face;

Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) pursues Stevens in episode 1 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

the parenthesis that appears among his left cheek muscles when he begins to smile;

Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage)  looks out on Tommy Boucher, reading, in episode 4 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

The abbreviated upper lip, which increases the impact of his emotionality any time he opens his mouth, even slightly.

Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) looks up to glance at his mother, watching from the window, in episode 2 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

The pronounced chin.

Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) contemplates his options after the riot in his millyard in episode 2 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

The long neck.

Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) returns to his mother after a contemplative walk in episode 2 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

The expressive shoulders.

Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) awaits Margaret in episode 2 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

The way he holds his newspaper;

Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) discusses Margaret’s accomplishments or lack of them with Mrs. Thornton (Sinead Cusack) in episode 2 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

the way he holds his glass.

Mr. Thornton explains his attitude toward his workers’ welfare in episode 1 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

The fingers, strong but gentle;

Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) pulls out a Helstone rose to show Margaret (Daniela Denby-Ashe) in episode 4 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

the emotive hands;

Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) extends his hand to see how badly Margaret (Daniela Denby-Ashe) has been hurt, in episode 2 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

the power in his hands and forearms, even when at rest.

Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) working on accounts, late nights in his office, in episode 4 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

The stance in the millyard;

Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) surprised by Higgins’ invitation to join him for a meal in episode 4 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

The authoritative, poised posture;

Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) and Ann Latimer (Lucy Brown) exit the church after Fanny’s wedding in episode 4 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

the way he inclines his head in injured parting;

Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) takes his leave of the Hales in episode 1 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

his long legs;

Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage), on his visit to Helstone, in episode 4 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

the resolute walk;

Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) walks home from the Hales’ at the beginning of episode 3 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

how he looks, when he finally looks happy.

Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) reacts to the news that Margaret will come home with him, in episode 4 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com


Richard Armitage as Mr. Thornton = beautiful.


When I started blogging, I often noticed that right after enthusing about Mr. Armitage’s appearance, fellow fans would feel compelled to affirm that it was his acting talent that they admired the most. I understood the impulse — admiring someone solely for his beauty seems shallow — even as I felt it was a false dilemma, as acting is to no insignificant degree the successful employment of one’s physicality to move an audience. Eventually, I argued that four factors working together in a relationship of combinations comprised the sources of Armitage’s magnetism: identity; talent; embodiment; and role choice. I suggested that this combination, working together, made him a “morass” out of which it was difficult for devotees to climb. That’s the rational piece; I don’t think we can separate his body out from either his identity or his talent.

And now to the emotional part: I don’t know if I would have noticed Richard Armitage if he had not been strikingly beautiful, which was an important reason why I decided to see North & South a second time; and I know that if I had not seen North & South again, I’d never have gone down the road I am on now. If I hadn’t paused to look twice at Richard Armitage, thinking his beauty would soothe me and discovering the tonic of the series, I’m not sure where I’d be now, but I wouldn’t have started this blog. Thus, although the question of his beauty is important to me in different ways now, in order to have had the effect on me that he did, Richard Armitage had to be so beautiful that it was immediately memorable when I was looking for comfort.


I didn’t use to spend much time thinking about beauty. I still don’t care about it much. I am not beautiful; I do not have a pretty face; I was sexier when I was younger (who wasn’t?), but no model. I spend little time cultivating my physical appearance beyond presentability and even then you shouldn’t catch me on a day when I don’t leave the house. Nor do I care a lick about the physical appearance of my friends or enemies, of neighbors or strangers. I do not see beauty or attractiveness as a prerequisite for, a cause of, or correlate of any other quality in a person (talent, amiability, moral character, intelligence, health). Multiple factors contribute to my attitude: upbringing in a particular stripe of Protestantism; my parents’ lack of concern for it; severe myopia from a young age that allowed me to hide behind my glasses in a world of books to protect my introversion; my (resulting?) predilection for solitude and daydreaming. My visual perception of the world is thus usually conducted as a rational, willed activity as opposed to either an unconscious or emotive one. I learned in college how to look at things — via art history courses — and I remember thinking that it was peculiar that the visual was a primary mode of perception for so many. And of course, when I discovered men (a bit late, I suppose), I got a whole different socialization into the function and effects of visual stimuli, but it always surprises me nonetheless. I am aware of the aesthetic dimension of life, but it’s not a constant piece of my interface with the world. It’s a bit of an exaggeration, perhaps, but when I am looking — which isn’t all that often — I am looking extremely closely and intensely. When I am not looking — which is most of the time — I’m not looking at all. And I very rarely experience strong reactions to visual inputs.

While a little disregard of the visual isn’t bad in our overly image-conscious world, I’m not claiming this stance is virtuous. Indeed, it can be liability, and taken to its most extreme forms, this kind of sensory impoverishment can be a symptom of severe depression. If repeated viewing of North & South was a step on my path out of misery, the trigger for that journey was that Richard Armitage was so beautiful and so unforgettable that when presented with the option of seeing him the second time, I couldn’t ignore him.


In his initial scene in episode 1 of North & South, Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) pursues Stevens across the factory floor at Marlborough Mills. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com


For better or for worse, my primary interpretive mode is not the visual, but rather the narrative and moral. This quality, along with a low sensitivity to the appeal of romance, which I found unrealistic here anyway, would otherwise have prevented me from watching North & South more than once. Precisely the organization of the dramatization of North & South, what Sandy Welch referred to in her commentary on the first episode as the need to introduce a conflict immediately (so that “he and the job are bound together in [Margaret’s] mind as something really rather brutal”), fed right into my prejudices. As a narrative interpreter, I am Welch’s target viewer. I completely fell into that trap, but much too well to get out again easily. In my defense, I do know that at least one other viewer of the series never really recovered from Thornton’s first appearance; she was so convinced by Armitage’s depiction of Thornton’s brutality that she never found his alleged later transformation fully credible.

As you know, of course, in light of the work narrative of the piece, I came to read Thornton’s brutality in this scene as of a piece with his principles. But I believe that I would have had a lot of difficulty developing further sympathy with Thornton had I not discovered the work / principles narrative. During my first viewing of the series, the success of Welch’s dramatic measure meant that I needed some time to accommodate my perception of the initial Thornton to the later one. I remember that we watched it on two consecutive nights, but I also remember that while I felt sorry for Thornton both during the tea scene (when Margaret wouldn’t shake his hand) and at the end of episode 1 (when Margaret and her father witness only his violence toward Stevens and not his principled refusal to set a spy among the workers), the first time I saw the proposal scene at the end of episode 2, I was on her side. Had we watched all four episodes on one night, I would have had a problem following the script towards its eventual moral dénouement, which in romantic terms requires us to accept both his (allegedly transformational) embrace of a pragmatic compassion and his implied recognition in the Helstone scene that there’s more to life than work. I was thus already unlikely to be viewing this series in the terms that its creators appeared to want audiences to buy. So: the success of the script and Armitage’s performance in the first mill scene, in combination with my moral(istic) attitudes, along with my relative lack of susceptibility to visuality probably would have meant that a single viewing of North & Southeven in the fraught, unhappy situation in which that viewing took place — would not have led to Armitagemania.

But the emotional situation in which I found myself the second time I saw it was markedly worse. I’d almost shut down analytically, not having written anything for months. When I stopped writing, I stopped thinking, and eventually I also nearly stopped reading. I was in siege mode to survive at work. Nothing, no input at all, was getting in any more through my usual receptors.

If I was going to think about my situation at all, something else was going to have to shock me into it.


A particularly resplendent Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) excuses himself from Margaret (Daniela Denby-Ashe) to talk to “that slimy eel Slickson” in episode 2 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com


What got in — somehow — the night of January 7, 2010, against all the odds, was Richard Armitage. And what broke through the fog of pain was his beauty. His performance, yes, but I recognized that was strong the first time; the story / role, yes — and these came to be increasingly important upon repeated viewings, and I’m not going to stop talking about those things. But most specifically, on that night, his beauty, which somehow, on that night, helped me to pull that DVD out of my bag, and then made all the pain processable, and then kept me watching as I started to turn over painful themes in my mind.

When I talk about this theme with people who are not as besotted as I (and even with some who are), I always hear qualifications. “He’s not classically handsome.” “He’s not perfectly handsome.” “He has an odd jaw / nose / lips / muscle in his forehead / hairline / build / ear structure.” “Too much chin.”  Or, I hear people insist that this is about Armitage’s inner qualities and acting talents. But while I think inner energy is part of it, and I will probably eventually write more about that, too, I don’t want to be pushing this discussion off onto the ideal level, where once again it’s “not really about how he looks,” but about his inner being. Yes, of course, but it’s also and decisively about how he looks.

Because I feel like I lack the deep vocabulary for talking about this much, the rest of this post is meandering. I’ve been trying to organize these thoughts for several days, and they’re defying my powers, so rather than writing part 1 here and resuming tomorrow, I’m just going to muse for the remainder of the post, and maybe write more analysis if it seems warranted or if other things occur to me.


Security in the midst of travail: Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) laughs with his mother about Fanny’s orders at the draper, in episode 4 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com


1. Although on the whole I’ve argued against the standpoint that appearance and acting skill are entirely separate, still I’m trying to isolate a particular factor here that plays into the confluence of these things. I’m trying to speak about an aesthetic level that is different both from the ideal (inner beauty, talent), in that it is clearly visual in itself, on its own terms and is not mediated by other things, as inner energy and talent are, but also distinct from the sexual (the aspect of Armitage’s appearance that elicits lust — which is there for me in Richard Armitage’s appearance, too, although I don’t much sexually desire Mr. Thornton in the way that I do John Porter or John Standring, for instance), in that it is separate from arousal. I’m trying to speak solely about an appearance, a visuality that is so appealing that it brightens the eyes, that it defies both insensibility and concrete efforts to ignore it, that it calls us to look at it again and and again in delight, that does not necessarily signify anything, but simply asks us to enjoy it on its own terms. In that sense, I suppose I’m saying that for me, this aspect of Armitage’s beauty is not only inevitable, but also trouble-free: it is there without arousing ethical or moral or political dilemmas. It is simply there, and simply beautiful. Something that I probably need to explore more is my cynicism about the possibility of something like that actually existing.

2. Whatever this beauty is (see 1), for me it has something to do with the fact that his face is not completely consonant or smooth, that from a particular angle we see a detail projected against either a neutral or contrasting background. His beauty thus is neither superficial — bland on the top with no tension between its elements — nor necessarily immediately resolvable. The beautiful details thus bear or repay mediation — which, I think, is part of why we spend so much time look at screencaps. To take an example, if we look at the lock of hair that falls across his forehead in the dinner party photo above, some elements of the face, seen from this perspective, clearly fit less with others — the contrast of the forehead muscle with the paleness of his skin, for example — and they serve to focus attention on the detail, but also to make my aesthetic senses try to fit all the pieces together, and thus run into overdrive. His smile can be so broad that his nose looks a bit comical, the twist of his eyebrows so pronouncedly curved that the lines of the rest of his face appear to conflict with it, his lips so contorted in fury that they make his face look like one big mouth. In other words, one aspect of the way his beauty works on me as a viewer involves the way it allows me both to focus on a beautiful detail that feels more prominent than other details at any given point, and to try to incorporate that detail as part of a whole. (Perhaps, then, it’s that the kind of beauty he displays works especially well with my hermenutic prejudices.)

3. Something that might have been really decisive for me, because it’s the primary visual impression that I remember from that night when I try to think back all those months, is that various features of his face are so easily suffusable with light. In particular, his skin is luminous, even though scars are visible and we can occasionally see irritations from facial hair. (Yes, Mr. Armitage, the moisturizing is paying off.) This quality worked especially well in North & South, because so much of Milton is shot in the dark, and the chiaroscuro contrasts of the series synergized especially well with the architecture of his nose, which meant that it was often the case that one half of his face was in shadow while the other was in light, making his skin appear even more beautiful. Similarly the stubble (which I assume is was potentially a characterization mark, but also perhaps an attempt to minimize skin irritation from his beard) against the skin suffused with light meant that in almost every dark scene he was in, I found myself looking to his face as beacon. But it wasn’t just the scenes in the dark. In the scenes with firelight, or example, or even full sunlight, his skin was equally illuminated, and his face thus equally magnetic. I need to think about this more in light of optics, I think.

4. His eyes, being so wideopenable, with such striking white scleras, were similarly visually effective. I suspect this effect will be repeated in The Hobbit — and may be one reason that we fall in love with the visual features of Thorin despite his shortness.

5. The strongly architectural scaffolding of his upper t-zone also has to come into this — as so often providing the contrast to the skin. In fact, maybe “contrast” is the theme of the last three points. His is a beauty that relies on the relatively easy display of strong contrasts — and because these are so visible in North & South, they penetrated through my fog because they could not be ignored.

The pregnant detail? The suffusable complexion? The beauty of contrasts? I think these may have been the decisive pieces of Armitage’s beauty that got through to me that winter night.

Help me think about this some more. What is it for you?

I think for me, it is about recognizing in Richard Armitage a visual quality that made me think that, indeed, even on the darkest of nights, even if I wasn’t ready to believe it fully, there could be beauty and joy for me again. It was about a visual quality so appealing that it made me ready to begin to surmount everything that was paralyzing me. This this encouragement could come from visuality — which I had, all my life, discounted — was the most surprising thing of all.

~ by Servetus on June 8, 2012.

75 Responses to “Why Richard Armitage had to be beautiful”

  1. Yes, he is beautiful.

    Thank you for all the screencaps and description, reminding me yet again of why I love North and South. The depth of his characterization, and the variety of the emotions (combined with his natural good looks) are mesmerizing. For me, it is his intelligence and clarity of emotion (portrayed by his acting) that make me find him beautiful. I thought he was good looking in the beginning (no argument there), but as the show progressed, he became even more beautiful.

    In some way, this reminds me of Dick Francis fictional heros. As their vulnerability, intelligence and capability are displayed in a novel, I begin to care about them more. (And yes, I would love RA to play a Dick Francis hero). Then when I reread a book, I feel all that love and admiration from page one. It’s the same way with RA now. After watching him in so many parts and being interviewed, I am predisposed to love and admire his performance. And even a little clip of him on a Hobbit vlog makes me burst into happy grins.


    • I would have said he was sexy after watch #1, but it was the second watch that made me realize he was beautiful — but it came in a for me unbelievably sudden way.


      • I was at a friend’s house in 2005 when she insisted we watch N&S, which she had recorded from TV. Although I did not say anything, and simply sipped my tea, anyone who had looked at me would have seen the facial and postural indicators of arousal. He just hit all the chakras at the same time.


  2. I don’t know what it is about this man. I watched him standing looking over the mill 8 years ago and something went pow. He has been in some dreadful things but he shines out of them and brings something amazing to every role.

    My darling children have been revolting today (Ikea on a half term Friday), but his voice calmed me down in the car on the way home and they made it into bed alive 😉

    My husband of 11 years, together for 17, bought me my copy of North and South DVD. He indulges me talking about Hobbit Vlogs. He knows that he is the only man for me but there is this tall dark haired man who has a place in my brain and he has no issue with it and that makes me love my dh even more.

    I will read your post again as I did rather skim read it but the photos are great!!

    Sending you love for your last post xx


    • That would be a great post title: “How Richard Armitage kept my children alive.” 🙂 And I bet true for a lot of people.

      Thanks for your good wishes. I didn’t realize you are a “legacy” fan. 🙂 You must be a very patient woman.


      • it has only been the last 8 months really that I have discovered all the RA stuff on the web, I just used to watch N&S and VoD a lot and then I found you tube and spent hours watching clips and videos. I then discovered RA.net and RA.Central and then I found you! (that sounds slightly stalker like, sorry!). I have just started on the fanfic, not quite sure at the moment but there are some great writers out there.

        I do wonder if he has any idea of the impact he has had and the work that has been produced because of him.


        • I think he must have *some* idea, because people write to him and tell him. (I haven’t, but I know of many, many people who have).


  3. And the voice adds to the over all beauty too. Love to read your analysis of that too. Thanks for the pics and caps! Lovely way to start the weekend.


  4. A lovely post on RA as JT Serv,

    I’ve saved the link to my “Serv’s Posts” folder.

    For me, North & South is almost a fractured fairytale replete with an evil stepsister (literally in Fanny Thornton, but Ann Lattimer is one, too), a wicked queen (Hannah Thornton), someone looking for magic beans (or a new life in the case of Mr. Hale), a wolf (the banker Lattimer), grandma (Mrs. Hale), a fairy godfather (Mr. Bell), assorted peasants (Higgins, Bessie, Mary, Dixon, etc.), and a prince (John Thornton) and his princess (Margaret Hale). Oh and the glass slipper in this tale is a yellow rose from the hedgerow at Helstone.

    And why am I so besotted with Richard Armitage myself? I agree with many of Serv’s points as I see them at play in my own life. And, the man is just the whole package–handsome, talented, thoughtful, poised, inquisitive, gentlemanly, playful, humble, kind, and socially aware, etc. I could drown in his soulful eyes and I quiver at his velvety voice. What’s not to love? Ha!

    Happily, I have an understanding hubby, too. *wink*

    Cheers! Grati ;->


    • hmm. Can’t really go there with the fairy tale. Mrs. Thornton reminds me way too much of my mom 🙂 but I would agree that there are archetypal moments of this story that speak to us on an implicit level.


  5. I have always said, “Scenery is good for the soul,” and I believe it. Richard Armitage is proof of principle for that axiom. For me, yes, I was brought up to believe that interest in appearance was shallow, and I had many examples of “cute” and “pretty” being unappealing. Later, as I learned I could get drunk on art, become spellbound by snowy mountains, and feel myself melting at the sound of certain music, I also came to appreciate a very human beauty. Yes, “Let me count the ways…”, but more than this, it seemed to be a whole recognition of some sort of resonance with the divine. It’s not conscious or analytical, at least at first; it overtakes me completely, the way I can feel when I listen to Bach. I hear a nonverbal, “I – Thou, Beloved, I – Thou!” This beauty is what spurs my creativity. I sense it as a whole, and only later go back to attack it hermaneutically, but only to discover that the whole is indeed more than the sum of the parts. Yes, I am aroused, but it is so much more than that. Richard Armitage can make me believe that life is a gift, that it is worth living, even at times when I can see no rational basis for that belief.


    • For me as a child, scenery was in a different category than the beauty of people. (Scenery=G-d’s creation. Odd that my parents wouldn’t have cared about people in the same sense, but then there’s the depravity of man thing.)

      The thing is that for me arousal usually comes a lot quicker than recognition of beauty. I would have said Richard Armitage was sexy the second I saw him on screen.


    • Leigh, Mozart has the same effect on me as Bach on you! Listening to his music makes me believe in God – In a way that attending a church service never does. If that makes sense. 🙂


    • “Richard Armitage can make me believe that life is a gift, that it is worth living, even at times when I can see no rational basis for that belief.” Leigh, beautifully said- and very true for me too! 🙂


  6. What a great collection of RA’s beauty and so very true. (Along the way, I thought – how good it is that RA does not read blogs or he might become vain ;o)
    My reaction to RA and stumbling into fandom was a bit different.
    I did see RA in N&S first, was impressed and did not immediately watch it again. It could have ended that way, except I most likely would have watched N&S some time later again, as I had it on DVD. What made the ultimate difference for me, was seeing him in a TV interview – where he even did not look his best – but he caught me and held me since then ;o)
    I saw the interview, because the wonderful fan-instructions to create videos lead me to it.
    What caught me and held me fast, was his considerate way of answering and avoiding controversial or openly criticising comments. He was so polite, so thoughtful, so different, so … just him.
    He was not one of those hyper-(pseudo)-intellectuals, so often to endure on German TV or one of those crazy attention seeking spleens.
    He was natural, normal in a so likeable way that my adoration did not cease, but steadily grew since then.

    Your description about your sight caught my attention, as I would describe my eye sight at best as ‘lazy’. Not that I see that badly, but my eyes recognize the things they see quite slowly. Should I detect someone in a room full of people, everybody will have seen me ten times, before I detect someone and you can really get me in a state of panic, if I should search for someone, because then I really have to look to ‘recognize’ someone ;o)
    I explain this with the fact that my eyes got an infection directly after birth (not uncommon and fortunately without lasting defects), but it was just, that sight was not the first sense I could get hold of and explore.
    Perhaps because of this, it were not the looks of RA alone, but the whole package, RA, his attitude towards acting, his attention to detail, his politeness, his direct gaze, showing his attention is focused at the current situation / topic / situation, which irrevocably got me into an unprecedented state of fandom.
    He also came at a time, where my opinion of mankind was not all too high, because of work experiences / betrayal / etc. He showed me that my ideals were not futile, but another attitude to life, another kind of person were possible. He showed me, that my surrounding was not the end or the limit of the world. So he was a very happy discovery for me ;o)


    • One question I want to ask is: how is it that someone who’s not influenced by the visual gets so suddenly shocked by it?


      • Oh, I would not say I am not influenced by the visual. I only needed other incentives, to even take the time to really see the visual part and stop long enough to have a closer look at RA and wanting to find out more about him in other roles ;o)
        He fulfilled his purpose as actor in N&S (so good that I looked who the two leading actors were – a really rare thing for me), but to look closer and see more, he had to be polite on TV, to really get me to take attention of him ;o)
        After the interview, I craved to see Spooks (and the rest is legend or my blog ;o).
        I had my problems with his role as Guy of Gisborne back then, I think perhaps, because I saw him in the polite role too much and did not combine it too well with his fierce and forceful role in Robin Hood.


        • I’m not saying it should be your question. It’s mine. 🙂


          • Perhaps it is because RA makes it so easy to associate, sympathise, connect with his acting / him / his intentions / his depicted roles. He opens something to take up and lures you in, to project your own emotions into his situation.
            He is not an actor who hides behind a stoic face of male indifference, but he acts the emotion, shows that situations affect him. Perhaps that is the thing which got your attention to see him as real and recognized him in his beauty?


            • No, I wasn’t kidding when I wrote all those words above. I’m trying to describe the mechanism — and the mechanism *that night* was shock at his beauty.


  7. Last weekend, during the Worldwide viewing of North and South, I tweeted “Thank you, thank you, thank you for RA”. And these responses to your blog are echoing the sentiment. I have not managed to work out why I find the idea of him so appealing (and it is an idea because none of us really know who he is), but as a relatively new appreciator, everything I find out about him fills me with delight. I think it’s partly because he seems to find such richness in his craft, and his commitment to what he is doing, and still valuing giving to others. Clearly he works hard on maintaining his body and appearance and for once I find that laudable rather than laughable.

    I especially love the two videos on The Armitage Army of him at BAFTA 2010 relating to the fans waiting along the sides, where he relates to them warmly and humorously. He also looks spectacularly good.

    I have loved your blogs, and realise this response doesn’t really respond to this blog, but let me say that finding out about RA, his work, and all the blogs etc has added to the enjoyment of my life, for which I am really grateful.

    One final thing, the last two Hobbit production videos may not have featured RA, but they have given us the privilege of seeing some snippets of him working and also have shown him in his natural state – not performing for the camera – and I have loved seeing that.

    Thank you for RA.


    • You’ve restated a chief reason for the existence of this blog, which is always useful. His beauty has improved my life so much. And this, for me, was totally counterintuitive.


  8. Thank you servetus, once again, for putting into words what I cannot. I have been watching N&S repeatedly this week, totally enthralled by RA’s Thornton.
    He is the only man I have ever referred to as beautiful. Others have been handsome, good-looking, gorgeous, but not beautiful. There is a depth to his beauty that I simply can’t articulate. Your need for him to be, is not mine, but your reasons… in your caps and words…are. They sum up his beauty perfectly. Simply, he takes my breath away, and it’s not just in a physical sense.
    Like Grati, I have saved this, I don’t want to lose it. 🙂


    • I agree with your comment that Richard is the only man who you refer to as beautiful. As I watched N&S the first time, I remember thinking he was attractive. However, it wasn’t until I began to read and to watch his interviews that I began to feel he was beautiful. Then, the more I learned about him and the more I watched him act, the more beautiful he appeared (and appears) to me. These feelings don’t seem to be fading, if anything they are growing. This obsession with all things Armitage is one of the strangest things that has happened in my life, but I’m sooooo glad it did!

      Thanks for sharing this wonderful post, Servetus! I have this one saved as well!!


    • Thanks — I’m glad you liked it. His beauty is so necessary, somehow.


  9. For me it’s his eyes. The energy in them is so strong and unique, I’ve not expected to “meet” such a human being. Together with his voice and looks (I’m more for special than classic anyways) he is so capturing. Yeah, it’s the package too. But these blue passionate eyes struck me more than anything.


    • I was wondering about this while i was posting — as it turned out that I devoted so much of my discussion of what was beautiful to his eyes or expressions in his eyes.


  10. Servetus, what a lovely and thought-provoking post (wonderful pictures, too). For me, the real revelation was not just his physical beauty but his expressiveness.
    I was struck by cdoart’s comments above, about “seeing slowly.” Sometimes it takes me a long time to figure out what a person is thinking or feeling based on their face or body language–a weakness that feels almost like a disability, when other people around me understand the nuances that sail right over my head.
    There are plenty of handsome male actors out there, but so often their faces (to me) are like beautiful blanks–I watch them in movies or on TV, and imagine them feeling whatever emotion I think likely under the circumstances, but it’s not like I really know what they’re trying to convey.
    But the first time I saw RA, I was thrilled and delighted because I felt like I understood what his character was feeling. It was so clear!
    So the fact that RA is handsome is not the most important thing to me. His physical beauty is enhanced by his skill in showing emotion clearly but not exaggeratedly.


    • This is an interesting point, saraleee, and one that I hadn’t much considered — about the clarity of certain expressions. What’s interesting about that is that (while there are occasionally exceptions in N&S) I tend to think that he’s not an overactor like some. He can be clear without slapping us in the face with it.

      I’m writing this down as something potentially to explore later.


  11. Serv, it strikes me as such a coincidence that your journey into Armitagemania began on Jan 7, 2010, the day my dad died. I often consider that as my unofficial beginning as well, as I think in my personal situation I embraced N&S and RA at a moment when RL was horrible. Although JT is not the RA character who I find the sexiest (Guy? Porter?) or the one I ‘m likely to watch after a tough day (John Standring has that dubious honor) , JT will always have a special place in my heart. You always remember your first, right?

    As why RA has stuck with me, I agree with many other posters . His beauty is a factor, but for me it’s also the fact that he seems like such a great guy. Like the Tweeter from the Hobbit set remarked, he’s very smart and very kind. An unbeatable combo in my book


    • I didn’t realize (or had forgotten) that the timing was that simultaneously. I know you’ve had other family struggles since then, and I’m glad that Armitage was there to comfort you.


  12. My favorite is the amused glance. People’s faces are generally most attractive to me when laughing, and that glance is as close as he gets in N&S. I think that’s why I like The Vicar of Dibley.


    • VoD is probably my least favorite thing he’s been in — but not because he smiles in it. I agree that I’d always like to see more pictures of him smiling 🙂


  13. Servetus!!! Back here in London again (feeling alarmingly like George Clooney’s character in ‘Up in the Air’ the past few weeks!) 😉

    I gotta say – this post, it’s gotta be in the Top 5 for me of ALL your posts to date. I’m SO BEHIND in responding to all your fantastic recent posts, but wanted to at least tell you this. You’ll have a longer response to this from me soon-ish. 😀


    • well, the fact that I’m publishing this stuff now: a lot of it is owing to your pushing. 🙂 No pressure. I’m always grateful for your thoughts.

      Glad to hear that you’re back on the ground and I hope the readjustment and adjustment to new things starts off well.


  14. Thanks to everyone for your comments! 🙂 I just want to clarify that I’m not arguing that the combination of factors is unimportant here (see paragraph in which I note my previous post on the inseparability of all of these things). I don’t disagree with that, nor do I want to make arguments about how you should see Richard Armitage or why you should find / should have found him appealing.

    This post was specifically concerned with being surprised, even shocked, by beauty, though, and so that’s where I’m going to go in discussion of it (and probably the next post).


  15. […] jaw and face in this production. The makeup enhances, rather than hides, its particularities. If clarity of expression draws us to Armitage’s work, we’re going to see that here. The architecture of his nose and forehead are built up rather […]


  16. No, no, they can’t take that away from me.


  17. Wow. I’ve got to keep thinking about this. I know exactly what you mean — the way he uses his beauty with such delicacy, and with such force when he makes himself ugly… There’s something important to me about what I’ve learned from reading your blog and other RA bloggers’ writing: that in interviews he can appear sometimes awkward and shy, as if he doesn’t know he’s beautiful. (Well, perhaps that has changed in recent years.) But yeah, his beauty. OMG.

    How’s that for stream of consciousness! But I wanted you to know how thought-provoking this is!


    • It’s an interesting problem and probable one that actors are well versed in dealing with, but one that I never thought about. Developing the capacity and the courage to be beautiful in a particular setting.


  18. […] significantly, as with Mr. Thornton, I think it’s key that I find Armitage’s Thornton extraordinarily beautiful, because it […]


  19. […] The thing that arrests my gaze, makes me open my eyes. […]


  20. Thank you, Servetus, for this particular blog post (and for your entire site, for that matter). I’ve only been an RA fan for a little over a week, but ever since my younger sister inadvertently got me hooked on N&S — on JT/RA, to be precise — I have found that JT’s beauty, in the masterful unraveling of his character by RA, has melded seamlessly with the beauty of RA himself as a person. On the topic of RA’s physical attractiveness alone, I would say that it is precisely his (facial) “imperfections” that endow a salient uniqueness to his outwardly beauty. In addition, his character’s internalization manifests admirably in his highly nuanced acting (in every centimeter that his brow lifts or lowers, in even the skillfully measured hand gestures, etc.) that these, to me, augment his overall handsomeness. Similar some of the posters here, I don’t label all men I deem handsome as necessarily beautiful. Richard Armitage is one of the very few men (in my book) who deserves the badge. And the more I learn about his humble and gentle nature, or about his frequent yet gentle invitations (to fans) to charitable giving, the more I find this man a truly beautiful soul…a rare find, in this day and age. Anyway, my apologies as my comment is getting a bit too long. Thank you, again, Servetus, for your intelligent and thoughtful posts. I look forward to reading more of your writings as the days progress.


  21. […] are tempted to pair “not cerebral” with “only a pretty face,” I link to my post on why Armitage’s beauty has been so essential to me. I personally can’t separate his body from his talent and his talent from his mind — […]


  22. […] “Why Richard Armitage had to be beautiful,” June 8, 2012. Thoughts on why North & South was able to penetrate the haze of paralysis I was living in when […]


  23. […] was the story, which seemed like a parable, and the actor, who had made the woman feel alive again, although it was impossible to explain at the beginning. Later, the woman realized that he proved […]


  24. […] it was a false dilemma, even as I conceded that at that decisive moment of Armitagemania onset, the beauty was necessary for me. However, I’ve been finding some of the other actors who play dwarves interesting lately […]


  25. […] a lot to do with work, a theme I’ve explored extensively starting here, but the question of what caught my attention as much as how it was caught, was central. There’s more to say there, more moments of […]


  26. […] Just show me some of the pretty, inject some dopamine into my nervous system. And, of course, Armitage had to be beautiful, as I’ve said before. But it’s more than that. It’s that I’m surprised […]


  27. […] [Why Richard Armitage had to be beautiful.] […]


  28. […] bit by bit, by walking me through my own problems, by addressing my inner conflicts even as you made it safe to do so with your beauty, you taught me to feel again. Forgive me if this post is a little emotional. I always intuited you […]


  29. […] are so unalloyedly positive that when I can mobilize them, they overwhelm everything else. Because the resulting stream of positivity made it possible for me to look at things that pain me severely, like my relationship with work. Because Armitage love lets me tap into every aspect of my energy, […]


  30. […] both legitimates certain kinds of wants (as he’s the unattainable object) and through the wanting he generates in me, makes it possible for me to think about painful things. He is the character of desire, although to me it’s more than romantic or sexual desire. Much […]


  31. “and they serve to focus attention on the detail, but also to make my aesthetic senses try to fit all the pieces together, and thus run into overdrive” This explains what I have been trying to figure out….I absolutely adore all facets of Richard Armitage and love to look at him but for the life of me I couldn’t figure something out….I keep looking at him over and over like a compulsion…at the same time he looks stunningly beautiful to me but also at the same time he doesn’t! I couldn’t figure out why I keep looking at him till I read what you wrote….my mind/eyes keep trying to fit all the pieces together. I have never had that with anyone, male or female, before. RA’s face is endlessly fascinating to me.


    • thanks — I do think it draws attention because it doesn’t fit together easily; the mind tries again and again to make it all fit.


  32. […] This post has been getting a lot of traffic lately and it seemed like maybe I should repost it: “Why Richard Armitage had to be beautiful.” […]


  33. Reblogged this on richardtreehouse and commented:
    Even though this was written over two years ago it still resonates with me today. I have been thinking about N & S and RA more than usual because of the 10 year anniversary.


  34. I think RA is beautiful, like most of us, in more ways than looks. I was attracted to his looks, but his personality and voice “sealed the deal” for me. I know “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” but I have often wondered why I (and many others here) were struck by the lightning which is RA, while others are immune and “don’t get it”. I have introduced RA through the clever “let’s watch this (fill in the blank , N&S or other). So far, out of six , the best reaction from these women is “he’s OK”. 😦 That is the maximum level of their enthusiasm . Is there a common denominator that we well wishers share? These women were friends or relatives with whom I have much in common. But when it comes to RA world, we don’t mesh at all. Of course I don’t expect everyone who sees RA on film would rush out and joln the fandom. Sometimes RA sneaks up on you, and sometimes he hits you over the head. But what is different about us, that draws us to him so powerfully? I would love to unravel that mystery. How do people go from no fandom, no way, to being here, reading your wonderful blog, and gazing at a beautiful man with like – minded people. ‘Tis a puzzlement. Apologies if this was OT.


  35. My blog is devoted in part to the appreciation of Beautiful Men. I spend a lot of time thinking about what that means. There is moral beauty, the beauty of talent well used, the beauty of intelligence, and physical beauty. All of these are gifts, but physical beauty is unique in that those who possess it can delight others simply by being present to our eyes. If we have eyes to see, that is.


  36. […] He was so beautiful that night that I couldn’t draw my attention away from him. It took me months to figure out what was going on, why he was so fascinating. The explanation starts here. […]


  37. Glad I stumbled upon this gem. I think, no, I am sure N&S is on schedule for me tonight after a while – I need the beauty of JT/RA.


    • It’s a weird moment — to think of retreating into the “beauty” of a 19th c. spinning mill — but Armitage definitely makes it better.


  38. […] and a gradual reawakening of my perceptive capacities and an increased willingness to feel. His beauty was there to catch my attention and the story of Mr. Thornton was there to address my vocational issues. Over the years, Armitage […]


  39. I’m glad I found this post even so long after its original date. As a recent RA fan,(I only discovered his existence this year) I too was immediately and forcefully struck by his extraordinary physical beauty. I’m not good at articulating why his beauty hit me so hard but it had such impact that when watching N&S for the first time, I was able to (after the initial shock wore off) completely understand his reasoning for the initial ugly seeming scene. I almost immediately completely sympathised with JT’s character and his contradictory feelings/actions. As an INFJ, I clicked immediately with JT as someone who looks out for/takes care of the world around him but is destined to be misunderstood by most others. RA beauty comes from his soul and is reflected in his facial and body language. As an INFJ, physical beauty grabs me by the throat and embeds itself in my heart. RA’s beauty to me is so striking because he doesn’t fit into the pretty boy Hollywood handsome category but transcends such shallowness to reveal the character and mind behind the eyes. In my sole opinion RA might be a fellow INFJ who loves and feels so deeply that to let a little bit of himself into his roles, either angelicly good or shockingly aggressive is might be why lots of people don’t have the same visceral gut clench reaction to hi appearance. INFJ’s are walking contradictions and repel and attract at the same time. I’m definitely in the obsessed with RA’s beauty category and he is the only man I can only define as beautiful, I can’t think of another English word that comes close to describing my instinctive reaction when I see images of him.


    • Thanks for the comment and welcome. It’s always great when the “back issues” are usefu to someone.

      I don’t think he’s a “J”. But I try not to get into discussions about the MBTI of people who haven’t answered the questionnaire themselves in any depth, because I think it’s really impossible for me to score it on his behalf.


  40. Please revise “but clench” to “gut clench”, the former is not what I meant, stupid auto correct….


  41. […] And of course, there have been other brief moments in projects I liked less well, that underlined things for me that seem important to him (stuff like “be okay with who you are,” which comes up in Sparkhouse, Moving On, Pilgrimage, and even Captain America). So for those people who wonder why I continue to have a crush on Richard Armitage when I don’t even always seem to like him on a day to day basis, it’s trajectory issues like this. I have always identified with the person I understand him to be and the choices I’ve seen him making as much as I have found him attractive (although that was certainly not irrelevant). […]


  42. […] and experience again. From the beginning to the addiction I developed to feeling things, because of the huge flashing light that appeared over Richard Armitage’s head, this crush re-animated my emotions. In turn my capacity to be analytical, which had been stifled […]


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