onsdag 27 mars 2013

Hang on - the bohemian painter's a baddie?!

I continue to be pleased with Mr Selfridge. It's a perfectly respectable costume-drama effort, and yes, it's better than The Paradise. However, it remains short of interesting villains, and when one of the characters suddenly shows his nasty side he proved a somewhat too - well - innovative baddie for my taste. The creep in question is not Mr Perez (if he keeps fading into the background, Victor will snatch his job), nor Mr Grove (a ginger cutie, but weak) but - Roderick Temple! That's right, the surely-completely-fictional bohemian artist that Rose Selfridge flirted with when she was at her angriest with her variety-girl-chasing husband. I was convinced that Roderick's only plot function was to show that Rose wasn't such a doormat as all that and could have had another man if only she'd chosen to. But no, suddenly he turns up again, charms the Selfridges' daughter Rosalie, ingratiates himself with the family, and makes lightly veiled threats to Rose - "come to my studio and I won't have to come here".

The immense unfairness lies in the fact that while I find this behaviour stalker-like and not at all attractive in an unshaved artist, it would probably be a completely different story if the roles were reversed. Imagine Mr and Mrs Selfridge had been a struggling artist couple, and Temple had been a succesful businessman. Imagine he would have used his money and influence to get a hold over the Selfridge family and lay siege to Rose. Well, it doesn't take much imagining really, because plots like that are common enough, and when they occur I'm usually all over the wicked money-man. So why not grant the same courtesy to a painter?

As a champion of the middle-class, I should be offended that middle-class villains - lawyers and businessmen, bankers especially, top the list - are such a frequent occurrence they've become well-worn clichés. After all, they have little basis in fact. When we have reason to be angry with our lawyer or banker, it's usually because we feel that he or she has messed up. Uriah-Heepish cunning plans to consciously do the clients down are, I imagine, quite rare. But one reason that these professions have to carry such a heavy villain-burden is that they do it so well - they can be portrayed as brainy, ambitious and power-hungry enough to make their plotting credible. Another reason is of course that various writers have used their fiction as a platform for bashing lawyers/businessmen/whoever has considerably more money than them. But turning your bête noire into a villain in a story can seriously back-fire. Your scoundrel can become so popular with the readers that he puts your right-thinking artist/worker/something-else-poor-but-honest hero in the shade. In sum, instead of berating the users of the middle-class villain cliché, I want to shake their hand for giving us middle-classers such good PR.

But that doesn't mean, surely, that the bad guy shouldn't be able to have another occupation entirely - bohemian painter, say? Well, it's hard  to make an interesting villain out of a drifter, and we are so used to seeing bohemians as unworldly - another cliché, if you like - that it's difficult to imagine one of them having enough sheer drive to make a success of the demanding role of villain. A baddie doesn't have to be middle-class (servants and leaders of pick-pocket gangs work well, just to name two examples completely at random), but having aspirations doesn't hurt.

I'm not sure all this is an excuse for not fancying Roderick. Maybe I'm turning into a villain snob? Be that as it may, the hunt for the next big thing costume-drama-villain-wise is still on.