Guy of Gisborne and my bad day at work, or Richard Armitage flat affect microexpressions

Today was a very discouraging day. I don’t like to whine. But uch. I was hugely depressed about what was happening until Dear Friend pointed out in my RL FB feed that I was punishing myself for something that’s not really or at least not solely my fault, which has alerted me to the fact that I must be angry but unable to express it (one old reading of the emotion of depression was that it involves the misdirection of anger inward). In any case I’ve been trying for three hours to shake off the extreme negative feelings from the day and get to where I can write, and have been unsuccessful. The next part of the RPF is coming but I just don’t have the capacity to descend that far into my emotions at the moment to finish editing that the images that I had in the fantasy into a narration that’s something recognizably mine.

No question that Guy of Gisborne is the character to turn to when work is treating one badly, is there?

Over the weekend someone asked me for some screencaps, and to make them I watched sections of Robin Hood 1.9 (“Something about Loyalty”). The main plot engine here is Vazey’s attempt to split up the gang by making Much the lord of Bonchurch. Guy witnesses this measure — an apparent reward going to someone else, when he thinks he deserves it, just as the Sheriff is torturing his friend, Norbert.

I was watching a lot of Robin Hood in the fall, and you may remember this post in which I talk about the multiplicity of reactions that Armitage brings to the table when the Sheriff imparts to him the truth that the king is not returning in Robin Hood 1.13, which means that his marriage to Marian will be based on a lie. It’s an interesting scene, simply because Guy’s reactions have to involve his dawning realization (and tacit acceptance) of the fact that he’s being forced into a betrayal at the very beginning of a relationship that actually means quite a lot to him — that he is being forced to get something he wants badly in the most devious of ways. The things he touches, it seems from that scene, can never help but be dirty, even when he tries to cleanse them. In the end, I suggested in that scene that he does come to terms with this result, perhaps still thinking that he’ll be able to fix things — that the expressions on his face mediate rage over his treatment, a sort of awareness that it’s “same old, same old” in his relationship to the Sheriff, and, finally, acceptance of the situation.

Here we’re looking at a similar theme, but about four episodes earlier. It’s an episode in which Guy experiences humiliation after humiliation — via Norbert’s refusal to cooperate; via the Sheriff’s instrumentalization of Much via an honor that Guy wants for himself, and then finally, by Marian’s inadvertent witnessing of his anger over what the Sheriff has done. And, of course, Marian’s naturally trying to manipulate him as well, which he must subconsciously sense even as he tries to evaluate her suggestions practically. I have plans to bring a coherent complete interpretation of Armitage’s performance in series 1 of Robin Hood — and this isn’t going to be that post, sadly, so these observations are provisory and heavily based on my mood at the moment. But I was thinking on Sunday, when I was capping, that there’s an interesting series of expressions on Guy’s face at the point at which he’s observing the Sheriff threatening the tortured / hanging Norbert, and then being prodded again by the Sheriff.

It’s really fascinating how clearly Armitage parses Guy’s reactions to people in this scene. He’s out of camera focus, but the progression is really clear.

First, he’s looking at Norbert, evaluating him as the Sheriff threatens him.

vlcsnap-2013-04-10-23h16m06s119The Sheriff (Keith Allen) and Guy of Gisborne (Richard Armitage) threaten the suspended Norbert in Robin Hood 1.9. My cap.

Armitage gives Guy one of his rapid evaluative eye movements here, something that I need to talk about more soon, but which here indicates the processing mood — Guy’s trying to assess the situation. Then, as the threats become more serious, Guy’s attention turns to the Sheriff, and his eyes move in that direction.


There’s a brief assessive flicker, and they rest here as well for only an instant, before we get the final Guy eye gesture:


Eyes cast down in shame / acceptance. The Sheriff, unable to extract what he wanted, leaves the scene, with Norbert’s ongoing torture implied, but the camera spares us one more moment for Guy. This is really just an instant, but it’s a very pregnant one — Guy seems to have to detach himself from someone he allegedly considered his friend here (another matter that his glance appears to ask the viewer to evaluate). How loyal is Guy? How much is he really struggling?

Something Armitage really seems to get here is the extent to which people have to separate themselves emotionally from their victims — this is a decision, Armitage’s interpretation of the character here. We see Guy looking at Norbert first in examination, with a slight shade of a plea under his glance:


And then, it’s as if Guy decides to misunderstand, or rather, decides that he can’t understand why Norbert continues to resist. This is a clear look of dismissal or condescension.


Guy just doesn’t get why Norbert would be so foolish. But there’s an intriguing last split-second, which is why this cap occurred to me again tonight:


I’m not exactly sure how to describe this because, as usual, Armitage is layering Guy’s expression with a more than basic sophistication. The dismissal is still there, but there’s more, a sort of resignation about Norbert’s behavior that Armitage turns into a self-recognition for Guy. It’s interesting to me that if what Guy tells Marian only just a bit later is true — that he’s angry because he’s lost control of the “black powder” project — that he isn’t more aggressively threatening to Norbert in his facial mien here or more visually supportive of the mood the Sheriff has created. Guy’s his own man — he’s not going to threaten Norbert further, it seems — but he also simply doesn’t understand. And then, at the end: the flat affect. The realization that he can’t let himself feel anything about this, even as he looks so intently, and that he has to detach, as just a microexpression before he turns away from Norbert with a sneer.

The scene then cuts immediately to the Sheriff urging Guy to look tactically at his decision to elevate Much. The implication of the camera, which cuts periodically to Much being dressed in better clothing, is that Guy is angry about this — but the immediately preceding scene leaves us as viewers in the wake of Guy’s reaction to the situation with Norbert.

These four expressions emerge in about 1.5 seconds of footage:

vlcsnap-2013-04-08-01h54m23s106 vlcsnap-2013-04-08-01h54m33s221vlcsnap-2013-04-08-01h54m50s121vlcsnap-2013-04-08-01h55m02s253Guy of Gisborne (Richard Armitage) reacts to the Sheriff’s explanation of how Much’s elevation is going to help their project, in Robin Hood 1.9. My caps.

I’m fixated on this because it’s such a classic progression — anger or jealousy at what’s happening for Much — then the introspective glance — directing the anger at himself. A third moment is a glance of resistance — before yet again a glance of acceptance. This isn’t quite the flat affect that he manages at the end of the moment with Norbert, but it’s a similar look.

I think what this is making me realize is just how much hopelessness Armitage built into Guy’s character and relationship with the Sheriff, more, I think than he put into either Lucas North / John Bateman or John Porter. Guy is trapped between so many forces that he can’t control, he’s trying to do his best, but in the end he’s always faced with no apparent choice — capitulate to the Sheriff (in this case, or in other cases, the gang, or Marian) and then try to configure his affect in order to make that ongoing subordination possible. One way this is reflected in these microexpressions of utter hopelessness. It’s not quite the same thing as despair — we don’t really see that as fully from Guy — but rather a sort of emotionless that Armitage puts there in order to signal subliminally how much Guy has to give up in order to continue working in this situation.

On days like today, I feel him.

~ by Servetus on April 11, 2013.

14 Responses to “Guy of Gisborne and my bad day at work, or Richard Armitage flat affect microexpressions”

  1. Yes, “It’s not quite the same thing as despair — we don’t really see that as fully from Guy — but rather a sort of emotionless that Armitage puts there in order to signal subliminally how much Guy has to give up in order to continue working in this situation.” Exactly! When we know we somehow must keep doing something that is gnawing at our innards and minds, we direct the anger inward and contribute to it. I remember an experiment described in one of my psych courses, how the repeated application of inescapable pain caused hopelessness and even when the subjects could escape, they had lost the will. The cruelty appalled me, but I understood what happened.


  2. Feeling trapped. It’s one of the worst situation I can imagine. Helpless. And, sadly, I lived and live in such a situation (partly my fault, partly others’). Thank you for your words, I hope today will be a brighter one. Big hugs.


  3. I sometimes wonder if the parts RA are drawn to are or have become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If not, if he’s really an upbeat, happy person all the time, then he is an amazing physical actor. But from interviews and his personal reticence, I personally gather just the opposite. I’m glad that he has an outlet for these emotions, but I do slightly worry that his is not a happy soul…I so long for him to play a “superfluous man” from the Russian tradition. He was born to play just such a role.


  4. This post gave me a lot to chew on. Great observations & really interesting thoughts.


  5. Loved reading this, and your analysis of Guy/Armitage’s performance. I totally agree with you and always found myself searching for Guy’s expressions on the background of a scene. It was interesting to see the range of emotions going through his eyes or face when he thought the Sheriff wasn’t watching.

    Thank you again for posting this, it distracted me from a very bad day too.


  6. Thanks for all of these thoughtful comments.


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