Armitage ambiguity, Gisborne subtlety

Lately, I’ve been feeling guilty that I abandoned writing analytically about Richard Armitage’s portrayal of Guy of Gisborne at such an early stage of the blog. I know exactly why I did it, but it still nags at me. Now that the reasons that caused me to stop no longer seem so decisive, it makes sense to return to these themes. And now that I know how to cut my own video, I’m thinking of sprucing up those early acting posts with my own vid cuts as opposed to ones I found elsewhere. I admit that parts of me are loathe to rewatch all of Robin Hood. But I’ve been doing some spot watching, late at night, maybe to psyche myself up, especially stuff from the first season.

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Much (Sam Troughton) encourages Djaq (Anjali Jay) to renounce her G-d in order to obtain freedom, in Robin Hood 1.5. My cap.

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1.5, “Turk Flu,” is probably one of my favorite series 1 episodes, mostly because not only does the episode advance the Guy / Marian storyline, matters outside of what’s happening to Guy also interested me — both the plotline with regard to the enslaved “Saracens” and that respecting the miners — and there wasn’t too much boring hanging out with the boys in the woods. The first series was heavily metaphorically didactic with regard to world events, in ways I often found less than useful, but in this episode, I really liked the scene where Much tells Djaq to renounce Allah in order to gain freedom and Djaq challenges Much to renounce his G-d. Now, this episode has nothing to do with the Middle Ages and everything to do with our own preoccupations, and I can imagine it played in particular ways in the UK that might have differed from its reception in the U.S., but it was written in a way that a kid could understand, without being overly heavy, and by injecting humor into the topic. I always like it when ethnocentrism can be demolished through laughter as opposed to moralizing. Most people, including me, resent being moralized to. We’d rather come to our own conclusions.

Over-moralizing is a particular risk of the kind of stylized drama represented by Robin Hood, in which the good guys and the bad guys don’t even need to open their mouths to reveal themselves because their clothing already signals their moral status. Choosing to participate in a piece like this often means abjuring from the start the sort of ambiguity that makes a character’s storyline interesting; for all his insistence on the importance of finding contradictions in his characters and Guy in particular, even Armitage conceded that because Robin Hood was a story for children, the script had to make sure that Sir Guy was punished for his transgressions. Another strategy for avoiding the unsubtlety of this sort of drama is the retreat into camp. In this way, a piece makes palatable its own overdrawn rhetorical stances by constantly exaggerating them; camp relieves tension for the viewer by signaling a production’s willingness to see something serious as ridiculous. The BBC Robin Hood employed his strategy regularly as well, not least because a production like this can’t help but allude constantly to all the other versions of the “Robin Hood” story already found in the viewer’s repertoire, many of which now appear ridiculous in their earnest heroism. We need to undermine our heroes, these days if we are to accept them at all. However: the problem with camp, which can be a particularly abrasive form of irony, is that it risks damaging all the moral stances it may actually want itself to embrace — will the viewer miss the ironic outlining of what is meant to be meaningful, and be left only with the message that the central message of the piece is one of ridicule?

Part of the reason I have trouble with rewatching big swathes of Robin Hood has to do with the failure of the show to negotiate very consistently the complicated tension it set up between object lesson and ridiculousness in order to present an actual, meaningful hour of drama where the characters dealt with real and believable problems — particularly in series 3. When it managed it, the show could be masterful — but it forced even the committed viewer to witness all too many disappointing failures. The script too frequently put the resolution of the moral dilemmas in the hands of the “moral” forest gang, rather than showing an actual confrontations between the forces ranged on either side — so that the evil was almost always already evil before the viewer got to think about it. And when the scripts did challenge the goodness of the good boys, these dilemmas often appeared in the form of discussions rather than actual, material challenges to their virtue, which was all but foreordained except in a handful of cases — 1.8 or 3.10 being good examples of what could happen when the scriptwriters got up enough courage to break with this general pattern.

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Bad from the beginning: Guy of Gisborne (Richard Armitage) appears for the first time in Robin Hood 1.1. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

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Almost alone among the actors involved in the BBC Robin Hood, Richard Armitage found ways to transcend this central structural problem of the show. As I’ve written before, one of the strengths of Armitage’s performance throughout the series was his ability to mediate the conflict between Sunday School lesson and self-conscious, mugging for the camera-style self-ridicule: “As Guy of Gisborne, Armitage dances on a tightrope so taut that we’re never sure what’s pantomime and what’s life lesson.” I think that Armitage succeeded in transcending the show, or perhaps, better put, keeping his balance in the narrow spaces these problematic scripts offered for real conflict because — despite our expectations as viewers watching a role like that of Sir Guy — he consistently refused to make Guy a man who was evil for evil’s sake. In that sense, he customarily deprived us as audience members of that cheap frisson of enjoyment (or its mirror sentiment, moralistic disgust) that could have come from watching the evil man who commits his crime while salivating with joy about how bad he gets to be before, during, and after. Armitage was aided rhetorically in this by the presence of the Sheriff in the scripts, of course, who was a truer sadist than Guy and willingly took on the role of the villain who truly enjoys his villainy — so that black and white were occupied by Vaizey and Robin and Guy got to occupy the grey middle with an interesting amount of regularity — Guy was thus typically presented with choices that Vaizey wasn’t interested in and Robin’s moral position wasn’t sophisticated enough to accommodate.

Armitage perched on this potential ambiguity so persistently after 1.5 or 1.6, even when he did terrible things, until one almost thought his own compass might be spinning. He himself ultimately worried later that by letting viewers see into Guy’s psyche, he had failed to alienate the audience enough to make the role believable. Guy could be vicious and gratuitously violent, particularly in the first part of series 1, but with the exception of on very crucial moment, he often failed to display or indeed lacked obvious bloodlust. He rarely gloated without some kind of gestural self-undercutting, as if he thought it was often just too tedious or time-consuming to be purposefully mean; Guy’s poison came from his insecurities, signaled in Armitage’s posture, gestures, mannerisms, and microexpressions, rather than from his aggression, or even from a reaction to the unwillingness of very formulaic scripts to give him much moral agency. In contrast, Jonas Armstrong’s Robin rarely seemed seriously tempted to abandon his virtue. With one or two exceptions, he never managed a very convincing ambiguity, and thus never got the viewer to raise many questions about the valences of his decisions. Thus, after the first few episodes, in which the scripts established Guy’s thoroughgoing evil via abuse of villagers, child abandonment, and murders on command, through Armitage’s gestural repertoire, Guy developed the moral ambiguity of the Machiavellian who acts cruelly in service of other things, who will settle for being feared because he shows quite clearly with every movement that he does not believe he can be loved — even by the objects of his own love. In that sense, Armitage’s Sir Guy made the execution of evil intent in Nottingham seem more filled with moral conflict than its opposite number in the forest, which never seriously puzzled over its capacity to harm its objects except in the form of Robin’s resentment when the villagers experienced retribution for the gang’s good deeds on their behalf. In that sense, Armitage also seemed to make evil seem more sophisticated and mature — and potentially sad, or weary — in its worldview than did Armstrong’s purchase on virtue, simply because Armitage’s Guy accepted that his actions would not be understood in a way that Armstrong’s Robin, with his frequent resort to pouting or whining, never could quite manage. Guy’s actions may urge the viewer to subject Guy to ridicule, spite, hate, moral opprobrium; but Armitage’s gestures, mood, and acting let us see that the choice of the villain to be evil is neither simple nor beautiful from the villain’s perspective. On the contrary: Armitage’s Guy demonstrates time after time that it’s hard, quotidian, wearing labor that has to be repeated every time anew.

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Torture bad. Guy of Gisborne (Richard Armitage) beats Roy in order to obtain information, in a moment the script seems to want us to compare to the torture scandals of the post-Abu Ghraib period, in Robin Hood 1.4. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

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Armitage’s Guy of Gisborne was thus clearly evil in all his signals to the audience and at the same time ambiguous in its execution of that stance, making Guy’s position usually the most intriguing moral dilemma on offer for the alert viewer to parse. Armitage’s primary technique for creating ambiguity this ambiguity against the over-theatrical demands of the stylized moral narrative, I believe, is gestural and heavily related to status conflict. As an actor in general and when playing Guy in particular, Richard Armitage refuses to moralize for his audience, to force us to draw a conclusion about what he’s thinking that would lead us to cognitive closure and thus to moral judgment, because he so often seems to change status within a scene that the status transactions involved mean that as viewers we often can’t tell if he’s triumphing or giving in or if he even knows this himself. That is — as Guy, Armitage consistently refuses to bring a point home completely, so that even when his actions demand a moral judgment or some kind of evaluation from the viewer, his gestures tend to prevent us from coming to this judgment with anything like ease. To be even more precise — he founds this technique on his refusal to make it entirely easy for us to know what Guy is thinking in any particular situation. Several excellent Guy scenes are available in this episode, and as I think about them, I realize that I absolutely have to write about them. However, for now, I’m going to focus on my second favorite. I’m going to write about this issue — how Armitage navigates ethical dilemma vs. camp in a single character — in terms of more transparent moral conflicts eventually (I hope), but the scene that I have in mind to write about tonight is one of interest conflict that feeds into moral dilemma.

If you will remember, in this episode, early on, Sir Guy encounters the Night Watchman on the road near the mine, and wings “him” (we know that it’s Marian under the mask, but Guy does not, and indeed, will not, until deep into series 2). Guy also invites Marian to attend a fair at Nottingham Castle with him. In another amazing Guy scene, Marian accepts, partly in order to hide her activities after her father almost betrays her, accidentally, and so at this point, Guy and Marian are attending the fair and watching the archery competition.

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Sir Guy (Richard Armitage) and Marian (Lucy Griffiths) at the archery match in Robin Hood 1.5.

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The scene begins (0:01) with Sir Guy’s unsubtle attempt to flirt with Marian — here, as an actor, Armitage retreats into the margin of camp to indicate both his desire to obtain Marian, and to facilitate for us the customary reading of the villain’s desire for the virtuous maiden — which is that it’s always illegitimate. He’s trying to be smooth, but Guy’s very smoothness signals to the viewer the inappropriateness of his desire from our perspective. At the same time, Guy takes himself with complete seriousness here, and the seductive tone of his speech makes us chill — both with awareness of the inappropriateness of his desire and in response to the clear expression of desire. These tensions place Guy at a particular stage of his ongoing status conflict with regard to Marian (something that’s constantly being negotiated in the series) and even with regard to his own vision of himself. Armitage signals Guy’s own simultaneous awareness of his desire and of its potential inappropriateness with a series of glances — at 0:02 (up status — speculative interest); 0:03 (low status – glance down to put himself together before the approach); 0:05 (seductive, almost feminine glance downward, with the sexy intonation on “apple”), and 0:06 (return to up status — attempt to look directly at her face). Note how his voice, his facial expression, the rhythm of his words, and his glance intensify through 0:07, so that by 0:08 he’s gone from seductive to either forceful, or cruel, depending on how you see it — his lips edging up into a faintly rapacious sneer that says “up status” but also “potentially threatened.”

At 0:10, camera shifts directly to Guy, and we see now that (whether he believes the superstition about apple peelings he’s narrating to flirt with, or not), he’s deadly serious about the subject, which is a hint about marriage and the evaluation of and perhaps attempt to influence Marian’s reaction, signaled by the marked opening of his eyes from 0:11 to 0:12 — a high status push. Camera moves to Marian, who intentionally bungles the apple peeling, and then back to Guy — whose eye movements follow the apple peel, but simultaneously signal a moment of disappointment, and even more, subtle humiliation as he takes in the rebuff with a split second breath of minor exasperation or frustration (?) at 0:15. This impression that Guy has now taken on low status is enhanced by the way that the camera moves away from him at 0:16, to show him hanging his head slightly. By 0:17, however, he’s shaken it off — Guy will not give up — moving to a statement about how the next archer will impress Marian, with a proprietary gesture at 0:18 that reasserts high status and a nod to self-assure of his confidence at 0:19. At 0:20, he’s dropping his hand onto her arm like he has every right to, and his fingers encounter the blood on Marian’s sleeve — from the wound he inflicted on the Night Watchman earlier in the episode. The question on every viewer’s mind — will Guy realize? The question on my mind — how does Armitage navigate status while he’s trying to tell us what Guy thinks or knows.

What becomes obvious at this point is a move that gives fantastic evidence for the many-layered depths of Armitage’s artistry. Because Armitage stills Guy very noticeably here, he gives us as viewers time to draw breath in anticipation of what might happen. But the stillness also focuses the viewer very clearly on Guy’s thought processes, which grab our entire attention in the remainder of the scene. At 0:25, when the camera returns to Guy, he’s still pondering the blood on his fingers, holding his eyes very still, even as he speaks — neutral status. His motion at 0:29, when the camera returns to him, is very intent, very controlled, so we can see how much he’s concentrating on the puzzle he’s been presented with, and his eyes remain steady even through 0:31, when his hand is moving, his fingers (re-)establishing the texture of blood against his thumb. He’s even, status-wise, with Marian here, as he asks her for information. At 0:32, his eyes remain in the same position for two whole seconds, so we have the complete opportunity to absorb the entire gravity of the blinking that signals his confusion, before he raises them at 0:34, when he looks disturbed enough that his sudden head motion at 0:35 makes it seem like he must know — even as he uses that classic “face clearing” move of Armitage’s, the contraction of medial frontalis, which also re-establishes his status with the lift of his head and chin.

The practical consequence of this scene, of course, is that Guy does nothing to Marian — so the implication is that he does not know or does not realize explicitly that she is the Night Watchman. This failure to realize is necessary for the ongoing dramatic tension of the series. However, if Guy simply acts as if he doesn’t know, it makes the force of evil here (the force that wants to shut down the Night Watchman’s charitable activities) simply look stupid — and thus unserious, unreal. The atmospheric result of Armitage’s acting militates against that possibility — that Guy doesn’t know what’s happening — because as audience members who see Guy wrestling with his status throughout the scene and wondering how to respond to Marian’s statements, we know that Guy has drawn some conclusion, but not exactly which ones. We think, “he must realize, he doesn’t realize, does he realize subconsciously, is this a conclusion he simply can’t accept?” If Guy leaves the scene not knowing, he’d be low status; if he left it knowing, he’d be high status, but that would ruin the plot. Because we don’t know what he knows, but only that he knows something, his status remains ambiguous despite his attempts to re-establish it. As a consequence, as viewers we are drawn further into the ethical dilemmas created by the extent of his potential realization: does he not want to know? Is his failure to move further a consequence of his feelings about Marian — or an inability to accept that the object of his desire could potentially be more than a figurehead, but an agent in her own right? What is in his mind? Who is in control as we leave the scene? Guy? or Marian?

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Guy knows he’s been had by Robin — but does he know it’s by Marian as well? Marian (Lucy Griffiths), Sir Guy of Gisborne (Richard Armitage), Sir Edward (Michael Elwyn), and the Sheriff (Keith Allen) award the prize to Rowan (Lyndon Ogbourne) in Robin Hood 1.5. My cap.

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I think Armitage navigates this scene with serious artistry. He manages simultaneously to leave intact the plotline that requires Marian to remain undiscovered even as he leads us to ask serious questions about Guy’s knowledge. He makes Guy’s advances to Marian both sinister (and thus ridiculous) and entirely serious (and thus, in turn, sinister), dancing on the tightrope between morality and ridicule. He balances the insecurity of Guy’s attitude toward Marian (will she think I am good enough?) with the arrogance of a man who thinks the only way to win a lover is to impress, so that these two stances are clearly connected as two sides of one facet of Guy’s character, and the difficult status dilemma that characterizes everything about Guy’s decisions remains intact. As a consequence of leaving Guy’s status so ambiguous, he refuses to moralize about Guy’s actions — and prevents us from doing so, either.

I could watch this scene again and again, Mr. Armitage. And have.

~ by Servetus on August 20, 2012.

40 Responses to “Armitage ambiguity, Gisborne subtlety”

  1. That’s one of my favorite scenes. Beautifully performed by Mr. A. Doesn’t hurt that he looks quite beautiful here, too.

    Guy’s ambiguity, his ambivalence about the duties he had to carry out, his insecurities over his status, his worthiness, his desire for power and need for love, all the conflicts within make him such a fascinating character. RH 2006 won’t be remembered for the hero of the piece–a whiny, sniffling, spoiled prat. For me, it’s all about the bad guy–who surely wasn’t all bad? He’s the one who captures my attention, piques my interest, makes me wonder about the character’s potential, about his past and his future.

    Richard is truly, truly an artist. What can the man do, one wonders, if he’s given consistently decent scripts with good direction?

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  2. Ah, Angieklong beat me to it. Yes, it doesn’t hurt he looks quite beautiful here, the first thing to arrest my attention. Then you realize his too obvious flirtation turned sinister quite quickly. I agree this is a good example of RA’s artistry. But it bring me back to the same question: would we have been so ready to sense the ambiguities RA presented and possibly sympathize with his insecurities, had he nod been so pretty? Seriously, every time I watch this scene, I’m arrested by his looks first.

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    • Sorry, it’s late and I can’t spell.

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    • The funny thing is, as much as I adore Guy and am totally Team Leather, it was not love/lust at first sight with Guyfor me. TBH, I thought he was a right smarmy bastard the first half of the season–attractive, yes, but a bastard nonetheless.

      And then somewhere along the way it began to sink in what this Armitage guy was doing with the character.

      And Guy’s smoulder and sexiness–and vulnerability– finally started getting to me. It wasn’t until the last ep of Series 1, when Guy got punched out and left at the altar that I really felt myself going completely over to the Dark Side.

      I also didn’t realize how little attention I was really paying to the first few eps–I guess there was nothing else I wanted to watch in that Sat night timeslot?–until I rewatched them and caught many nuances to RA’s performance I missed the first time around. Also plot developments, such as they were. *sheepish shrug*

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    • One of the points I’m consistently trying to make throughout the blog is that it’s not either / or. You can’t have Armitage without his face, but you also can’t have Armitage’s face without his skill. Acting is the successful employment of a body and a being to convey emotion or story. So, would we have noticed his acting without his body? No. Because he can’t act without it.

      Although I understand the people who feel obliged to apologize for finding him attractive — to emphasize that he’s talented, not just handsome, or whatever — I feel like it’s a false dilemma.

      As far as would we be ready to sympathize with the character had he looked different — I think we would. I agree with his statement here that he has a potential issue as actor with making his “bad guy” characters too sympathetic — it’s one of my issues with his portrayal of Paul Andrews in BTS.

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      • Good point. Pretty hard to separate one from the other. I just know that if Richard had merely been a hot-looking actor in leather, and brought nothing else to the table as Guy, I’d have given up on RH a LONG time before the series actually ended.
        Pretty may get my attention, but pretty alone isn’t enough to keep my attention or make me care or to want to see more of an actor’s performances.. I need to write a post about this, but I have alluded to the fact that Guy reminds me in many ways of my late father, and that resemblance is in no way tied to his appearance. It is those qualiities–good and bad–that somehow touch me. Guy just gets to me on a number of different levels, I suppose.

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  3. John Thornton tuned me positively to Guy of Gizborne:)…if I may say so ..(or if this phrase has sense in English)? 😉

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  4. I think the fact that RA is handsome adds to the squeamishness the viewer feels when focusing on Guy’s bad deeds. One’s desire to hate Guy for his actions conflicts with his outer attractiveness making for a more complex reaction to the character.

    When glimpses of his desire for redemption emerge, the viewer is more willing –and even relieved–to embrace those. The damaged man who acts cruelly because he lacks love but who may be able to heal through love and acceptance far better comports with the visual of a handsome man. When jolted back to the reality of his cruel conduct, however, the visceral recoil felt by the viewer is all the more powerful. (In other words, “I can’t believe I forgot how bad he was–did I really see some redeeming qualities or do I want to believe he can be redeemed simply because I am “stirred” by him?”)

    The viewer is left with see-sawing emotions which begin to lean more toward sympathy as the character begins to progress toward true honor and redemption until the viewer is provided with a logical basis to conclude that Guy truly has the capability of goodness. (For me, the tipping point was the episode when Nottingham is about to be leveled and Guy refuses to leave but opts to stay by Marian’s –and the townspeople’s — side).

    After the viewer reaches a comfort level where one can equate the emergence of a good soul with the viewer’s reaction to Guy’s attractiveness, RA continues to remind the viewer of Guy’s capacity for evil, which makes the viewer continuously doubt the conclusion the viewer may have reached that Guy has goodness within him.

    Ultimately, the viewer is permitted to freely accept Guy as someone who wants redemption but will never achieve it, making his death all the more tragic. I think if Guy weren’t so physically attractive, the push-pull of emotions would not have lasted as long through the entire series and the grief the viewer feels that Guy is never truly redeemed is all the more potent.

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    • Yes!!! Thank you Northern Gal for articulating so succinctly what my addled couldn’t last night. It’s sad when Serv posts an excellent analysis and all I’m capable of replying is, “mmmmm, eyes….” 🙂

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    • I’ve been thinking about this the last half hour or so, and while I agree with some of it, the issue with me in agreeing with you fully is the irony / camp factor. It’s a generic convention since at least the beginning of the twentieth century, if not earlier, that the villain has to look sexy. Indeed, according to that convention, part of how we know that he’s the villain is that he’s superficially attractive. We can’t take our eyes off of him because we’re not supposed to. Yes, Armitage is good looking — but this is a theme that the series pushed to the full extent possible.

      Also, there are viewers, Armitage fans, who don’t actually embrace Guy’s implicit desire for redemption (I’m thinking of mulubinba in particular, but I’ve found others), who don’t believe Armitage’s own backtalk about the series, or at least not that he was successful, and do not feel themselves influenced by his looks at all to find Guy sympathetic. There were three reasons why I stopped writing about Guy early on, and to be honest, this was one of them — I don’t personally believe that Guy ever makes it to true, complete honor, and I actually think that’s a strength of the series for me (and a reason why I find his murder of Marian so incredibly convincing and his death scene so incredibly vomit-inducing). I know this is not a popular view and at the point at which I started writing I didn’t have the energy to argue it out with a group of fans who threatened to appear on the blog. As someone who’s not really convinced by the moral redemption argument, I tend to find the ongoing status issues much more significant than parsing how Armitage looks as Guy (beyond the obvious ways that the designers worked to update and campify the stereotypical “luscious villain” trope). I didn’t find his death tragic in the usual sense of that word, by which we mean unjust or undeserved or happening just at the point where something could have changed — I was sorry for him. But I thought he got what he deserved and was only surprised he didn’t meet his end sooner. I would describe his death as just.

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      • Hmmm…. I have to disagree with the following broad statement: “It’s a generic convention since at least the beginning of the twentieth century, if not earlier, that the villain has to look sexy. Indeed…part of how we know that he’s the villain is that he is superficially attractive”

        Most iconic villains of 20th & 21st century films are really not at all physically attractive: Darth Vader (ironically, NOT beyond redemption as he is redeemed by his love for his son), Emperor Palpatin (deformed), Voldamort (deformed), All the ‘Orcs’, The Uruk Hai, Gollum (not a villain per se, but still a schizophrenic little worm), most Batman villains except when George Clooney was Batman, most Pirates of the Caribbean villains… and these are just from movies that hold all time box office records…

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        • In this kind of drama, I would argue that the villain’s sinister quality is in fact based on his plausible attractiveness. I don’t think any of the dramas you cite (Star Wars, Harry Potter, The Hobbit) are really in the same category of drama as Robin Hood — with the possible exception of the comic book villains (and I haven’t seen any Pirates of the Caribbean movies, so can’t say anything about them). They are all twentieth century stories, but the Robin Hood story goes back further than all of those, and was reinterpreted in the beginning of the twentieth century in a decisively stylized way. The villain is frequently tall, thin, with a pale complexion, sinister facial hair, remarkable facial flexibility so that he can appear both seductive and cruel, and so on. We have to be able to recognize him as a villain but also see his plausible attractiveness (within the ironic possibilities of his costume) in order to find him credible.

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  5. I wonder how challenging this role was for the actor, compared with his other roles? Servetus’ analysis is so good in expressing the ambiguities and subtleties of the characterisation. Easy to play a true villain. (Vasey/Prince John- great camp fun, but no empathetic audience engagement.) The script at least introduced some questions about Robin’s treatment of Much, which he encouraged his band to follow. Playground bullying…

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    • Guy really could have just been one more standard cardboard cutout henchman, just as Vasey and PJ were the standard boo-hiss villains, if Richard had chosen/been directed to play him that way.

      I suspect the actor’s interpretation of the role (and yes, the fact he looked so darned HOT) led the writers to ramp up his role and give his character more opportunities to show us glimpses of humanity. There was also considerable chemistry shown between RA and Lucy onscreen to take into account.

      As for Robin, I know that the producers wanted the legend interpreted for a new generation, but he simply never worked for me (perhaps I am too old?) as a heroic character.

      I have no problem with a hero having flaws; that’s what makes him more interesting. But coming off as a puffed-up, egotistical, whiny, brattish guy still in some ways stuck in adolescence? No.

      I really detested the way Robin treated Much, who, after Allan, was my favorite member of the gang. I always liked the gang better than the leader.

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      • Was Robin really written that way or was that the the perception projected by a very young inexperienced actor? IMHO, a more seasoned actor would have created more character depth.

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        • Robin had a few potentially good script moments in series 1 — I think of his struggle with his desire to kill Guy when he had him tied a tree in series 1 — and I agree that in a basic sense Armstrong often didn’t seem to know what to do to make his portrayal of virtue more nuanced. It’s my argument in this post that Armitage used his gestural repertoire to make evil more complex and that Robin didn’t seem to know how to do that to make good seem more difficult than it appeared to be. The problems in Robin / Much’s relationship after their return to Locksley are actually a good example here — the point of the script should be, in fact, to shed light on the virtues of the hero (or lack of same) in terms of how he treats his supporters. What happens to their relationship once Robin doesn’t “need” Much in the same way any longer, although Much’s feelings have not changed? Had Robin appeared more fundamentally affected by this problem than Armostrong was able to suggest, it would have improved his performance substantially. This was a script problem but also an execution issue. Armstrong had “virtuous” and “whiny” down pretty well, but he never came across with a meaningful or credible presentation of “conflicted,” which is how one suspect someone in that situation might actually feel.

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          • Well, I have never tried to hide my feeling that JA was not a good choice to play the role of Robin. I just don’t think he was experienced enough or versatile enough of a performer to really make a success of the role.
            I did note when I listened to the RH audiobooks narrated by RA that I found Robin a much more sympathetic character. And that was with Richard basically speaking some of the same lines, or very close to them, that JA delivered onscreen. It wasn’t just a matter of liking Mr. A’s voice better; it was the way he spoke that dialogue, the nuances and shadings he gave it.

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            • I’ve often wondered how different the series would have been if RA played RH. It would’ve been interesting to see what RA could have done with the RH character.

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              • and it would have been interesting, too, to see if he’d have been able to push the scriptwriters to be more complex.

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                • I suspect he would have pushed for more complexity.. Just for giggles, I have imagined Richard as Robin–and JA as Gisborne. And the thought really does make me giggle. But he and Vasey would have made quite a cocky little couple strutting through the castle corridors together. 😉

                  I think with a more experienced, more charismatic actor in the role of Robin, it could have been a different show. Of course, if Richard had played Robin, I’d have loved his interpretation, I am certain–but then I would have missed out on the glories of his Gizzy.

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  6. Lovely analysis, Serv,

    For Guy, Marian started out as a prize to be claimed. But in the end, she claimed his heart, but she remained elusive and aloof.

    That this dance of desire between the two of them–mostly on Guy’s part–kept us riveted for three seasons is another example of the subtly nuanced character portrayal of Sir Guy that Richard Armitage blessed us with.

    Cheers! Grati ;->

    P.S. The “will she think I am good enough?” aspect of Sir Guy’s psyche that you mentioned also made me think of John Thornton wondering about Margaret Hale.

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    • yes, the status issue is key. Didion’s been pressuring me to write about for years now. Maybe this year. I feel like I’m finally getting somewhere.

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  7. When I first saw Robin Hood on YouTube I was searching for videos of Toby Stevens because I had recently seen him in Jane Eyre. And the first time I saw Guy of Gisborne was in the fight scene between Guy and the Sheriff. What caught my attention about the scene wasn’t RA, but the intensity of the scene. I was setting on the edge of my seat and was totally shocked when Guy came back over that ledge and stabbed the sheriff with the knife he pulled from his own leg. Little did I know then what I know now — that every scene with Richard Armitage is intense. Soon after, I started watching Robin Hood from the beginning of the series and finally started noticing the character Guy of Gisborne. The first thing I noticed about Guy was that he reminded me of Elvis Presley. Whether it was intentional or not, Guy had the same dyed black hair and sideburns, the same smirk and practically the same leather suit Elvis wore. As I continued to watch the show, I realized that RA is an exquisite actor. The fact that he was good looking didn’t really dawn on me at first because I’m not usually attracted to the tall, dark, quiet type. There are certain scenes in RH where Guy’s physical appearance reminds me of my great-uncle who was not a pretty man and actually looked quite frightening to children.
    So far, Guy is one of my favorite RA characters, so I’m looking forward to more of your analysis.

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    • that’s an amazing scene — and despite the explicit homoerotic overtones, Armitage’s performance is so amazingly medieval that it dazzles (it was one of those moments where I thought, okay, there actually is some history in this series).

      My nieces have seen the first four or five episodes of RH series 1, and while they’re not frightened by Guy, they are repelled — I assume because they already knew, at ages 7 and 8 (this was last summer) that black=bad.

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      • I agree that medieval is an good discription of what RA was able to do with the character of Guy especially in the first episodes of the 3rd season. That’s why/when the character reminded me of my uncle…they were both incredibly gothic.

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        • we may possibly be using medieval in different senses of the term 🙂 I don’t find the series as a whole very medieval at all and the third season was the worst in that regard — pretty dreadful. I’m also sure “Gothic” means something pretty different to me, as I wouldn’t use it as an adjective to describe a person and so I don’t know exactly what you mean when you say your uncle was “Gothic.” I guess we’ll see what comes out, though. 🙂

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          • Gothic as in someone coming from a dark, decaying environment. Guy’s character came out of the dark ages of England; my uncle came out of the dark ages of Southern America. In both instances, the environment that “birthed” these men where places of poverty, violence, slavery/serfdom, and ignorance along with a multitude of other deficiencies. Also their physical appearance which could be ghastly considering these men lived in a time when there were none of today’s modern conveniences or health care. Guy looked pretty scary in the first part of the third series. Of course, the makeup had a lot to do with it. My uncle looked pretty scary too even without the goth makeup.

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            • aha. Historians have sort of gotten away from “Dark Ages”. That explains the difference in my perception, possibly.

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  8. And speaking of ambiguity, something I’ve noticed lately about RA is that he’s very effective in the “killing me softly” scenes. I noticed this in the MI-5/Spooks series 9. There’s one episode where the woman he’s protecting finds out about the Albany file and Lucas let’s her bleed to death — all the while reassuring her that everything was going to be ok. He basically did the same thing with Ruth in the last episode when he injects her with a solution that may eventually cause her death. And although killing Marian was an extremely violent act, RA was able to make viewers forgive (or forget) what Guy did to her. Hmmmm….

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  9. Medieval parody! (Terry Jones “Medieval Times”…)
    With series 9 MI5/Spooks, I gradually disengaged from the character of Lucas/John, to focus on the artistry of the actor transition. I simply no longer cared about the character. There was an echo from S1 – Elisabeta: “Were you always this cold?” Always cared about Gisborne, though.:)

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    • yeah, the acting challenge to Armitage was significant and the last episodes were mainly interesting because of that.

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  10. […] other week we were discussing whether we’d have noticed Armitage as Guy of Gisborne if he hadn’t been so beautiful. This isn’t really my question, because Guy wasn’t my first. He was my second, and […]

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  11. […] more than the Sheriff’s statements. However, as I’ve said in the past repeatedly, we can’t separate his body from his acting, as acting is an employment of the body — and the fact that the scene was edited together in […]

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  12. […] whom scripts have required to be not as intellectually quick as he is — Guy of Gisborne (which I’ve discussed a bit before, assessing the extent of Guy’s awareness of what&#8217…) and John Porter are two key examples. Armitage’s statement to Crouse, with its employment of […]

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  13. […] of choices that have become visibly identifiable patterns in his work. I’m thinking here of the dynamic that is so consistently visible in his portrayal of Guy of Gisborne — where we are…. I’m going to try to be talking a lot about this theme this year as I pick scenes from […]

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  14. […] must be betraying him and causing the constant failure of his plans at the hands of Robin et al. What we think he must know, at least unconsciously, in episode 1.5, about Marian’s duplicity, Guy must confront head-on in this episode, and that confrontation shows his character from a […]

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  15. […] scene against the possibility that Guy is lying or being manipulative here (again, think back to 1.5, where we see him grasp Marian’s bloody sleeve and think, man, he must know what is going …). He’s back to flat affect, but a slight tensing of his brow at 0:28, almost a wince, and a […]

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  16. […] All ups and downs of the series itself aside, and no matter how he himself might think about it now, I still find this one of Richard Armitage’s most successful and durable roles. I’ve written about it a fair amount but the fact that I don’t write about it more is mainly because I find what Armitage does here so complex and so difficult to analyze — not least because he regularly sweeps me both into emotion and lust here. Armitage is well known as a master of portraying humiliation and this is the character whose emotions have often come closest to my own in that regard. Perhaps that is the genius of Richard Armitage as Guy — that although I’d like to think I’m nothing like him, I so often see my own reactions mirrored in his face. So much about him is ambiguous or subtle or simply left to the viewer’s judgment. […]

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