fredag 21 juni 2013

Not falling for the villain (or similar)

Villain crushes are like the pot that won’t boil if you watch it. When you’re actively seeking a new flame, you will mostly find nothing. The worrying thing is that so many of my crushes start with a “surely not?” phase, where I am in denial about having fallen at all, and I’m sligthly anxious about what taboo I’m going to break next.  There seems to be little rhyme or reason to when villain infatuations strike –they just happen, or don’t as the case may be.

How, for instance, can I explain my lack of enthusiasm for Doctor Simeon, later morphing into the Great Intelligence, in the latest episodes of Doctor Who? He’s Victorian, he’s chilly, he’s ruthless, he’s – well – intelligent: in sum, just my type. True, he’s played by Richard E. Grant, whom I have found vaguely unsettling in previous roles. However, I’ve always thought that this was because he was playing dashing blades (Sir Percy Blakeney, James Harthouse) or good eggs (Bob Cratchit) instead of villain roles, which he was obviously better suited for. Gosford Park seemed to bear me out: I approved of him as George the cynical footman (admittedly, it would have been hard to go wrong with a part like that).

In Doctor Who, though, the Grant-unsettling effect was still very much in evidence. Consequently, I had the weird experience of viewing a villain in the same way a majority of viewers do: with fear and even a little loathing. Instead of thinking “Yummy, what an adversary” I went “Yikes, I’d hate the likes of him messing with my past”. In a way, a triumph for Richard E. Grant then, as this was of course exactly how I was supposed to react. 

And why don’t I even like Thomas Watkins in Upstairs Downstairs? He’s not precisely a villain, but you could say that he’s a villain surrogate. He often behaves in a way no dyed-in-the-wool hero would get away with, and he’s got the cunning and ambition which you normally expect from the baddie. But I just can’t warm to the man. I’ve debated the point with myself roughly as follows.

“Why I don’t like Watkins? Well, he’s so shifty, isn’t he?”
“I thought you liked that in a manservant. And why don’t you call him Thomas?”
“Well, obviously I can’t. Anyway, Watkins only ever thinks of himself. He’d walk over corpses just to get on. Just look at how he lets the admittedly idiotic Mr Kirbridge down.”
“As I was saying…”
“And then he’s so cold in his personal life. He disappoints Rose, and I’m never quite convinced that he really loves Sarah. They both deserve better than him in my opinion.”
“I see, cold in his personal life. You mean like Mr Tulkinghorn? Or Bitzer? Or Balzac’s bankers?”
“Oh, just shut up, will you?”

As you can see, I can’t explain it, but there it is. In part, I can blame a latent bullish aggressiveness in Watkins’s character – even towards Rose, at one point – which I really don’t think is that common among my own diddle-diddle-darlings. Also, he came off rather badly in the spin-off series beguilingly titled Thomas and Sarah, where we learn that he didn’t make a success of his garage and he steadfastly refuses to marry his live-in-girlfriend Sarah. The spin-off ended 
– on a cliff-hanger too  – after only one series: I blame Watkins, plus the couple’s continuing bad luck (surely, also his fault).     

So, when it comes to villain crushes, maybe it’s just as well to stick with what I’ve got for the present. Away with embarrassment: sometime in the near future, I will buy that T-shirt with Downton’s Thomas on it and the caption “Trust me”. But the question remains when I’m going to wear it?