Thursday, September 22, 2011

PERIOD DRAMA TOP FIVE - Not-So-Villainous-After-All Villains

This month's Period Drama Top Five concerns those characters whom we regard in a very different light by the time the particular drama in which they feature has worked its way to a conclusion. Some we are extremely suspicious of, some are shrouded in mystery and some we utterly despise but by the time the credits roll, they have either redeemed themselves or else misunderstandings have been explained and the said characters absolved of all sin. Below are my much-deliberated-over choices in no particular order. SPOILER ALERT:

1. Grace Poole in Jane Eyre
Surely the fall guy to end all fall guys, Grace Poole is suspected of all sorts of nefarious deeds including violent outbursts, committing arson and having an annoying laugh before it is revealed that all she's been doing is her best to earn a crust under strange and unusual circumstances. She perhaps over-indulges in the demon drink on occasion but taking charge of the highly-strung first Mrs Rochester whilst simultaneously keeping her presence at Thornfield Hall a secret for the sake of her master is no walk in the park.

2. Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice
Darcy's callous treatment of poor, unfortunate Mr Wickham and his active role in perhaps ruining forever the happiness of her most-beloved sister both play a significant role in Elizabeth Bennett reaching the conclusion that Fitzwilliam Darcy is the last man in the world that she could ever be prevailed upon to marry, despite all those thousands a year. Once it is revealed that he has been misrepresented by the cad Wickham and acted misguidedly but with the best of intentions in respect of Lizzie's sister, Mr Darcy's greatest flaw seems ultimately to be social awkwardness and that is something that us period drama fanatics are hardly in a position to criticise too harshly.

3. Charlotte Bartlett in A Room with A View
The archetypal frustrated spinster and poster girl for English repression, joyless Cousin Charlotte stalks the streets of Florence as if she'd rather be anywhere but there and is openly disdainful of the working-class Emersons. Mortified when she spots a growing attraction between her charge Lucy Honeychurch and young George Emerson, Charlotte strongly advises Lucy not to pursue such an undesirable connection. Ultimately, however, she realises that they love each other passionately and does not stand in the way of them experiencing a sort of happiness that she has never had. Indeed, she orchestrates their reunion in her own little Charlotte-esque way.

4. Abel Magwitch in Great Expectations
You know how it is. You can't take five minutes away from your slap-happy sister to visit your parents' grave on Christmas Eve without a convict turning you upside down, threatening to cut your liver out and demanding you bring him some vittles. Well, young Pip's tolerance of such an imposition is richly rewarded when years later the said convict Abel Magwitch selflessly orchestrates the boy's rise from his humble circumstances to great expectations. It is also revealed that the kindly Abel wasn't all that bad to begin with but fell in with a bad crowd behind the bike sheds or, at least, the Victorian equivalent.

5. Lady Macbeth in Macbeth
This is potentially the most controversial entry on the list. Lady Macbeth is a reprehensible individual in many ways who appears to have not a modicum of guilt or shame about using every trick in the book to convince the hen-pecked Thane of Cawdor to commit a bit of regicide, as in the above still from Roman Polanski's 1971 adaptation starring Francesca Annis and Jon Finch. The iconic sleepwalking scene in Act Five, however, tells a different tale and although she undoubtedly behaves badly, it is hard not to sympathise with the wretched queen as she torments herself with washing her hands over and over again and laments that they will ne'er be clean. We've all had a "What have I done, sweet Jesus what have I done?" moment or two surely!

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