Richard Armitage and the durability of Guy of Gisborne, part 3

Continued from part 1 and part 2 of a meditation on Richard Armitage’s remark that he felt the scene in Robin Hood 1.7 between Guy and Marian over the necklace was like a mini-play.

After her rhetorical and status triumph in the previous portion of the sequence, Marian mounts the stairs to her bedchamber and begins to toss it to simulate a robbery. I’ve cut the final sequence to begin the scene as Guy ascends the stairs to force the confrontation from which he had just been willing to let her escape.

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Guy is back in control as Armitage moves back toward the low tone, coiled up, dangerous, but still flat affect expression, when he has Guy lean with a sort of weary cosmopolitanism against the threshold to the room.

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The question is how much of that weariness is a put-on. Guy’s willingness to show his rage openly is pitched a tad higher than it had been at the opening of the previous scene, a sign that this exchange will start with a higher energy level of open aggression. Guy has no more patience for Marian’s deceptions. Guy struggles visibly from this point onward to maintain his composure, balancing between the constant interference of actual anger with a low-voiced, sarcastic mien, one that appears not lack its brief moment of regret, or at least chagrin, and perhaps self-reproach for letting himself be too open. It’s this potential for self-reproach (why did I let myself trust her?) that raises a fundamental question for interpreting the scene. Armitage said at some point that at first he wanted Marian for the status she granted, and because Robin wanted her, but that the sentiment developed into more. The question remains — as always with Armitage’s oh-so-complex portrayals — into what? Several things, probably.

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“My, oh my,” Guy says, as he advances relentlessly toward a nervous Marian, “Robin Hood’s broken in and stolen” (stomp, chin lift) “the necklace.” Very effective delivery, I think, with a carefully measured violence that indicates both restraint and fury — especially if we ask ourselves how someone this angry can get a viewer through a scene that will ultimately last close to four minutes without overloading us at the very beginning and then leaving the character nowhere to go.

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But when Guy makes it within striking range of Marian, his eyes seem dead, his face even a bit humiliated — as if he’s almost too tired to be violent with her.

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If we look at the next few frames of the clip, what we see is a sort of alternative experience of fatigue and shame:

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Armitage draws out this mood over several seconds (roughly 0:21-0:23) and after watching it several times, trying to figure out what is happening, I wondered if we’re seeing him slow down the rapid eyelash movement that we often see from his characters when they become distressed (both Standring and Mr. Thornton offer good examples of this facial movement). This feels like a slower version of that move.

In any case, at 0:23, we witness the interaction’s resumption. Guy states to Marian that he thought she was his friend. It’s interesting to contemplate the shame of the previous moments of the 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 on). He’s back to flat affect, but a slight tensing of his brow at 0:28, almost a wince, and a brief but clearly noticeable catch in his breath as he says “attention.” The rise in the pitch of Guy’s voice toward the top of Armitage’s baritone seem to signal genuine pain.

When Marian insists that Guy’s charges are untrue, we see the pained expression join the flat affect, and I, at least, am convinced about that piece of it, that Guy’s sense of having been betrayed is more genuine than we might have thought, or that he feels the emotional level of it acutely. (It’s important to ask about the genuineness of Guy’s sentiment here, I might add, because of how this scene ends.)

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Look at Guy’s right eyebrow, above, and at the variety of expressions and attempts to negate them that run across his face at 0:35-36. He recovers his composure when he can assert his superior — accurate — worldview and scoff at her unwillingness to maintain the truth,

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but he loses status again as he gives her the space to mourn conditions in Nottingham. Does he do this to give himself a moment to process the loss of his picture of her, or of his plans? Or is it an inability to contest what she’s saying? The fatigue with which he responds suggests the former; the shaking of the head and the tensing of his lips, the latter. This is one of those moments where the camera notices that he’s beautiful, so it gives us a few extra seconds to glimpse his mood. In the end, perhaps, it doesn’t matter to him; his glance becomes aimless as he realizes (or decision?) that he will not be able to save her.

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But after 0:57, Guy’s gestures are relentless — he cannot admit of her worldview but she’s once again asserting her status. Look at his variety of responses in the background.

His head is bowed at 1:10 and he slowly raises it, and (in combination with the score) the viewer sees a gathering scene energy here. Guy still believes nothing remains to be said,

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and that her “something to show [him]” is a ruse, but he’s forced to take notice, his glance drawn toward his.

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After 1:23, strikingly, Guy gains energy as he realizes Marian has the necklace to give him. This subtle shift in mood signals again, I think, that the rage-filled quality of the whole confrontation stemmed as much from his personal feelings of sadness and shame about his feelings toward Marian as an unworthy object of desire as from his desire to reasserting his sovereignty in the wake of her betrayals.

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Guy seems to feel a combination of joy and astonishment to see the necklace.

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But after Guy’s ready response of an apology to Marian when she demands it (this is a moment that truly wins me for Guy, at least for a second — even if this is the result of a status conflict, or one of those curious moments of “mothering” Guy cited earlier in the series, there’s refreshingly no male posturing here) is that moment of recognition — at around 1:51, where we return to Guy’s apparently constant world of interminable calculation. If Marian can make a plausible case about the necklace, and Guy still wishes to win her, then he can be on her side again — even if he still believes she betrayed him — and now the concrete problem is the Sheriff.

Armitage’s microexpressions at this point in the scene are such that we can practically see the wheels turning in Guy’s brain.

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And so, once again, Guy can press the offensive.

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His calculation over how the Sheriff responds is replaced at 2:05 with the hard sell to Marian about how he will not be able to protect her and her father.

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And it’s from this point that I think I see one of the more masterful acting moves of Armitage’s career to this point.

I always wonder, particularly when I see certain gestures reproduced across characters (a classic example would be Armitage’s “hand to face” distress move) to what extent these are either Armitage’s own personal signals or stock signals that he’s modifying slightly, based on the emotional mood he creates in the characters. The eyebrow flutter referred to above is another one of these — practically every Armitage character does it. (It’s charming; I’m not complaining). What do I think is so spectacular?

After 2:05 in this clip, Guy begins to use his own emotional language  — precisely the signals he had used early to signal emotions that I had concluded were reasonably sincere — cynically. And yet, because we’ve seen and interpreted them in light of sincerity only moments before, though we know them to be ironic here, we are unsettled as interpreters, asking ourselves if this can really be the man who has just sold us on his true suffering. The high point of this exploitation, to which Armitage moves Guy around 2:16, are the fluttering eyebrows to indicate pained emotion.

And then, at 2:20, Armitage moves even this level of viewer energy up a notch. Guy realizes the full consequences of the advantage he has now obtained — and he physically and rhetorically swoops right in to intensify and capitalize. “Marry me,” he says, realizing that he’s finally in the position, through coercion based on Marian’s betrayal and his awareness of it, to make good the claim that he’s never been able to enforce through attraction or reason.

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And now, with the heightening of Guy’s physical intensity — and Marian’s awareness that her own previous moment of triumph has been turned precisely on its head, that she cannot now contest the plot lines of a story that she has narrated herself, that she has trapped herself in a contradiction — we know that Gisborne is pushing it, that he’s exploiting what may have been a sincere feeling just a few moments ago into a poker chip or a political hammer to get what he wants. The result is that Marian has to deny her true feelings for Robin in Robin’s (hidden) presence — one of the only weak moments of the scene, because Jonas Armstrong can only show pain, and nothing more, on his face, thus weakening the energy of this relationship triangle. And Gisborne gets the statement that he wants — that Marian doesn’t want Robin — but only because he can force it from her, thus spoiling exactly what he wants at the precise moment that he forces its creation.

And it’s clear, through Armitage’s depiction of Guy’s shame, that Guy knows this is happening, that he wills it to happen — and, perhaps, despite his belief that Guy is “quite a fine thing,” that he nonetheless suspects that he is worthy of nothing more. At 3:00, there’s a brief moment of subtle optimism in response to Marian’s declaration that she despises Robin, as if he could almost believe her, though it’s fleeting.

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Then at 3:02, a motion of the eyes that seems simultaneously delighted and aware of his victory in a slightly malicious way. At 3:04, however, after a moment to ponder all of his options, Guy has decided. He screws his courage to the sticking place and takes a deep breath to collect himself:

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And then, at 3:09 and afterwards, he begins to deliver one of the most exploitative marriage proposal in television history, the proposal that exactly suits the motivation behind his question in the first place, a marriage proposal delivered with spite, and with clenched jaw.

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Even though he has the advantage, Guy is remarkably still fighting with his own status here, almost as if he expects Marian to continue to win this particular battle.

Marian says yes — and Guy is faced with the problem of how to react to the fact that he has gotten her agreement to what he wanted even as he has practically secured her resentment of the situation. (Note — this is less of a rhetorical problem in the medieval context than it appears to us as modern viewers, but the whole status struggle all the way through this scene makes it clear that even seen from a medieval perspective, Guy knows he’s not good enough and only getting what he wants because of his superior maneuvering.) At 3:33 we see his gasp of relief (she said yes):

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but when he raises his head, there is nothing to rejoice over — no love, no jubilation, and not even really a sense of victory, although that is what he has had, technically.

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and Guy’s introspective eye movement, and apparent status loss, as he realizes that his bride will celebrate nothing and neither can he is one of the saddest movements in all of series 1.

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When he even ventures to move his head in closer proximity to his, Marian moves hers away:

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And while this can be read as the maidenly behavior of the well-raised lady, Guy knows it for what it is — she has accepted him as a marital partner, and now, now, an entirely new potential of ways for Marian to reject him opens up.

Guy’s response of humiliation is immediate and Armitage gradually lets him fall even further.

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When Marian suggests that they tell Edward the “good news,” in such a measured tone, this awareness hits home in the emotions of both Guy and the viewer. Guy’s head position and the swallow and the meek “yes” all signal the ultimate in abjection.

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He raises his eyes as he informs her that he will apologize,

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The next post, to conclude what oddly got very long, some reflections, both about the significance of the denouement to this scene as an index of Armitage’s art and its longevity, and the associated problem of trying to harvest a sense of dramatic merit from what’s essentially a rather cheesy piece of series television with relatively little to recommend it.

À bientôt.

~ by Servetus on February 15, 2014.

25 Responses to “Richard Armitage and the durability of Guy of Gisborne, part 3”

  1. […] This got long, so I added the final scene in a third post. […]

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  2. Richard has talked about his own temper and how strong it is. once let loose it is the throw the chair out the window type but that such a thing can be useful. Do you suppose that this might be a bit of what he means? Great analysis of the scene by the way. So much rage and other emotions here and yet Guy can still figure out how to turn it all to his advantage in the end, forcing Marian to agree to marry him. How would that have worked if she had said she despised both of them actually. I don’t suppose that Guy would actually care all that much so long as she agreed to marry him right?

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    • If so, it’s interesting that he doesn’t get into a wild physical display in this sequence *except* as regards Edward, and I’m a bit surprised that no one has questioned the very abrupt quality of that move … it’s a total non sequitur within the sequence.

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  3. You’ve made me think of Standring here. I’ve always thought of Standring scenes as some of the most excruciating but there was never a question of Carol, John knew she’d ‘never fancied him’ and that she had an agenda.
    Here looking at images instead of film and watching Guy struggle with what to believe of Marian, her treatment of him seems almost inhumane.
    Even when John pressed Carol, she still managed to be honest and uncomfortable and let him see it. Here, well pretty much anywhere in RH, Marian plays her games with Guy, stalling until she can think of something new and whether he recognizes it and ignores it or misses it completely, it is heartbreaking.
    I feel some writing coming on.

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    • yeah, this ends up being surprisingly painful to watch although one has relatively little sympathy for Guy at this point in the series, I would argue (they set him up to be so terrible at the beginning of the show). Armitage is just so good at humiliation and insecurity. There’s a question in my mind about what he think he’s in for as he goes to apologize to Sir Edward — i.e., he’s got his fiancee now but what is the price goin to be to him?

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      • I never really understood why Guy didn’t just do what he wanted with Marian and Edward, they seemed so weak against him. IMO Though I do understand him wanting Marian to want him. Perhaps he was punishing himself for wanting someone he thought out of his league?

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        • I think the answer to that question depends a lot on how “medieval” you think this show is. If the show is operating within the parameters of medieval society, then he was landless and disinherited (as we learn from series 3) which would have created a status problem for him. Inherently, they would *always* be better than him and they would all know it. If, however, the medieval setting is irrelevant to the show, then you’re right. He has all the power. The interpretation is probably somewhere in between.

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          • I’ve thought before that most of my issues with Guy were because I couldn’t reconcile this physically powerful and attractive man (both rather unusual at the time/or at least with this cast) with the uncertain, sometimes needy, sometimes commanding, sometimes confused, sometimes stupid character that was written. And after reading and looking at the images I realize that Mr. A. didn’t help at all, he just made it all MORE confusing by playing out what the writers gave him. Perfectly. I suppose I couldn’t suspend disbelief about the disdain that EVERYONE treated him with. I’ve seen far nastier characters get away with SO much more. Even other versions of Guy. Did Armitage make Guy too human?

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            • Armitage worried in press interviews that he made Guy too sympathetic. But I think that Guy wasn’t inherently nasty — he was out for status. He wasn’t truly sadistic (in the sense of taking joy from inflicting pain on others) even though sometimes Armitage described him that way. And of course if Guy’s primary motivator were a status lack, then it would make sense that everyone with a defined status would look down on him (I wrote a post about this quesiton called “being medieval” very early on).

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  4. This was fascinating, and I still haven’t seen RH. I haven’t realized how often Richard plays a man who bears the pain of not getting what he really wants. He does it so well! didn’t he say something to that effect, that a story is over once the desired object is gained?

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    • he said that about Guy in the Vulpes Libres interview, he was only interesting as long as he wasn’t getting what he wanted.

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  5. My first impression of Guy (encountering him by accident on BBC America) was that he was miscast. I thought he was the “hot” guy, tall dark and handsome in leather, no less, and Robin was lacking all those attributes. What can I say, my superficial side won in that case. But after reading your analysis, I think RA had a perfect role to showcase his ability to play a conflicted and complicated character, rather than a straight-up hero. I only went back to the series after becoming a fan, and appreciate his work in it so much more, now. Thanks for assembling and analyzing the minutiae of this scene. BTW I agree with your “cheesy” assessment,and the fact that you can extract such analytic gems from this series is a tribute to your perseverance and intellectual acumen. You can take the last sentence as a belated Valentine.

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    • It’s an interesting problem — would we have grown more interested in Robin if he’d been played by a more experienced actor? (Armstrong was just out of drama school when he got that role, and he played it so straight, there was very little nuance to his emotions. You know when Robin is sad, happy, annoyed, whatever but there’s very little underneath that.) It seemed clear to a lot of watchers that the show got much more interested in Guy in its 2nd and 3rd series, even if the plot lines he got were not that much more sophisticated.

      Thanks for the Valentine! xoxo!

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  6. Great overview of the scene. I’ve always thought Guy went through a series of emotions and Richard’s portrayal was so believable. Guy clenching his jaw as he proposed was such a checkmate moment for him, even though he got the “yes” response through coercion. It made one feel both triumphant and slightly embarrassed for him. My biggest problem with the scene, however, was Marian’s self-righteous shoving of the necklace, returned by Robin, into Guy’s hand. Then she says with such indignation, “Feel it! It is real.”( I wanted to slap her) which made him feel ashamed, though all along she didn’t have it until Robin returned it to her. Yes, it was one of the best scenes next to the one in Treasure of the Nation, where Guy expresses how he felt about her and did she once know how he was feeling. Another good scene to dissect. Hope you do it in the future. 🙂

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    • well, she kind of has to be self righteous to hold up her side of the charade. she insisted it was there, its presence “proves” she was telling the truth, so she has to seem injured (even if she isn’t) if she wants any chance of making her case with Guy.

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  7. I thoroughly enjoyed this. Once again, you’ve taken what is, for me, a visceral experience and broken it up into fascinating nuggets of food-for-thought. You certainly made it possible for me to enjoy RH a great deal more than I would have otherwise. 😉 Going back to rewatch this episode!! Thank you and a belated happy Valentine’s from me as well. ❤

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  8. ” ..Guy lean with a sort of weary cosmopolitalism against the tresshold..”
    *squee* it’s so great , Sev ! …and then “Robin Hood’s broken in and stolen” stomp.. chin lift..”the neckless” – in those moment I had great respect for Marian ( I think he is really scary here..unpredictable )
    Oh, more ..please more .:)

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    • That’s a nice point and it’s one I hadn’t explored much here — his affect is SO different in the upstairs scene than we’ve ever seen him before. That also distinguishes this particular performance.

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  9. […] work, how skillfully he accomplishes this over and over again, as with Mr. Thornton, with Guy of Gisborne, with John Porter, with Thorin Oakenshield. So I submit — one reason that Armitagemania […]

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  10. […] second part of my Hamlet analysis? (Doubtful, if I don’t relisten to it.) Will I get back to the position of Guy of Gisborne in Armitage’s oeuvre? That’s more likely, at least I have a draft of that and there was a sort of direction there. […]

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  11. […] 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 […]

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