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Friday, June 18, 2010

Friday Face Off: Austen Villains, with a twist!

[Note to Fred and Barnabus fans: they are now on their way to Bath, where I am sure they will do many uncouth things in their pursuit of all things Jane.  They will be back to duke it out for your pleasure soon...]

So far this month for Friday Face Offs, I have pitted the actors who played each character against each other to decide who did each best.  This week, while I still intend to do that to an extent, I am also going to limit to the top three in each category to see who comes out on top; a sort of face-off within a face-off.  [There are just too many villains for me to do them all justice...]

So let's get to it, shall we?  Ladies first!

In third place for Best Villainess, we have...

Lady Catherine de Bourgh

Dame Judi Dench, Barbara Leigh-Hunt and Lindsay Duncan as Lady Catherine de Bourgh

I know, I know.  You're saying Lady Catherine comes in third?!?  But I'm serious on this.  I think she is despicable, and I do want to throw things at her, but she's not as insidious as some villainesses.  One could stand up to Lady Catherine (as indeed, Lizzy did) and shut her up, really.  She'll just storm off with all of her affronted dignity and that will be the end of it.  She's a pest, and she's haughty, but she's not all that threatening.
Who played her best? I think Judi Dench gave us the most faithful and imposing Lady C, but Lindsay Duncan brought a great sneering, plotting quality to the role that I quite enjoyed; between the two, it is a toss-up. Barbara Leigh-Hunt was just sort of obnoxious.  I didn't like her, which is the point, I guess, but she didn't do much for me.

In 2nd place, we have...
Caroline Bingley

Anna Chancellor, Kelly Reilly and Christina Cole as Caroline Bingley
Again, you're saying Caroline is only #2?  But she's the Queen C*nt of Austenville...  And you're right.  But Caroline, for all of her horrible qualities, is somewhat pitiable and sad, really.  She's a smart woman, and I think she could be a good friend if she exerted herself to be, but when we see her, she is thwarted in love, and perhaps not at her best.  Not that I blame Darcy for not loving her.  She's a snob and a -- well, I already kind of went there, so yeah, Darcy had his reasons for disliking her, as do we.  I want to throw things at Lady Catherine, but I want to karate chop Caroline in the throat...
Who played her best?  This is really a three-way tie for me.  Each of these ladies brought something so different to the table.  Anna Chancellor brought that haughty, rich, condescending quality, and played a very faithful Caroline.  Kelly Reilly was sort of stunning in the role; the way she would just look at people just said Caroline Bingley to me.  She didn't even have to say a word.  Christina Cole, of course, brought a little something extra to the role, which was very interesting for me, as it gave a whole new slant to the haughty Caroline; she brought a little more humanness, but of course, the bitch is still there in full force.  I am hard pressed to choose a winner, but I think I give a slight edge to Reilly.

But the winner of Best Villainess is...
Harriet Walter and Claire Skinner as Fanny (Ferrars) Dashwood

And would you believe I left her off of the list of villainesses when I first posted it?  Again, I left off the most obvious one, I suppose because she is just so obvious.  Where the other two "ladies" have some redeeming quality, or you are in some way able to dismiss them, Fanny has no such saving grace.  Nothing about her is pleasant.  She is conniving, underhanded, greedy and malicious, and seems to take pleasure in wounding people.  Worse, she brings down those around her to her level, making the entire environment a bit toxic.  Fanny is bad business, and she is to be avoided at all costs.  (You know, should you ever time-travel ala Amanda Price and end up in S&S...)
Who played her best? This one is easy.  Harriet Walter certainly did an admirable job as Fanny, but Claire Skinner made my skin crawl, she was so spot on malicious.  Every little detail, from her voice to her mannerisms, right down to the little turn of her mouth, was perfectly plotted to create a picture of a woman who looks down on everything and everyone, and is completely out for herself in the world.

Well done, ladies.  You took the prize as the best of the worst.

Now on to the gents.

In 3rd place as Best Villain is...
Henry Crawford

Alessandro Nivola and Joseph Beattie as Henry Crawford

I almost like Henry Crawford.  He is a bit of a bad boy in the beginning, but for awhile there, you think he's going to be a reformed bad boy, and we all know how delicious an idea that is.  But then he goes and screws it up by running off with a married woman, who happens to be one of our heroines cousins and sometime-tormentors, and suddenly, we remember why we didn't like him all that much in the first place.
Who played him best? Alessandro Nivola is Henry Crawford for me.  Beattie did a respectable job, but Nivola captured that essence of "pretty boy who knows it, total fuck-up" that is Henry Crawford to me.

In 2nd place as Best Villains, we have...

Mr John Willoughby

Greg Wise and Dominic Cooper as Willoughby

Through much of the story, we are taught to love Willoughby.  He and Marianne are a bit effervescent together, and we live through them and are glorious.  But then he leaves us Marianne, and humiliates us her, and then we find out about this outrageous past he had, and that maybe he never really loved us Marianne to begin with.  If this was just supposition, we may be able to forgive him and know that he had to marry as he had to marry -- it just wasn't meant to be.  But to have his admission of a near lack of feeling from his own lips makes him seem like a bored and callous youth who was simply toying with the affections of an ardent girl because he liked the way it felt.
Who played him best?  Bit of a toss up.  Greg Wise is a bit more despicable, so he certainly fits for this face-off, but Dominic Cooper gave a very layered, flawed-man performance that made Willoughby a relatable villain, which is always more interesting.  I think the edge goes to Cooper because of this, though it lessens his villain-ness.

and the winner is...
Mr Wickham

Adrian Lukis, Rupert Friend and Tom Riley as Mr Wickham

No big surprises here, right?  You already knew this, didn't you?  Who else but Wickham to take this crown?  Again, in the beginning we are set up to like Wickham and root for him, and when Lizzie gives Darcy his infamous dressing-down, we are right along side her yelling about the injustices he has brought on Wickham.  Then of course we learn what an utter ass he is, and he rushes off to prove it by running off with a flighty 15 year old to do god knows what (but I think we do) and then extort money out of her family and his former "friend."  Badly done indeed.
Who played him best?  Lukis was certainly the biggest bastard, and wins the villain aspect hands-down.  Friend was more lovable, so though I liked him in the role, he wasn't quite Wickham for me.  Riley, however, is heaven.  He's not the Wickham you know -- he's more of a secretly noble Wickham, which is an interesting twist -- but he's still a prick; he's just sort of a well-intentioned prick, and so utterly delicious in the role that if you don't fall in love with him, then there's something wrong with your lady parts.*  As Amanda Price says in Lost in Austen, Wickham may be a bastard, but he is the right bastard...

There you have it, folks.  Those are my top three.  Feel free to argue with me now...

*Unless you fell for Caroline instead. ;p


  1. Tom Riley was so gorgeous he made me like Wickham!

  2. I have to make a pitch for Amanda Boxer in the 1981 version of Sense and Sensibility. She may not have been the most formidable actress to play Fanny, but it is the self satisfied smirk on her face that I see whenever I reread the book. She was just awful (in a wonderful sort of way).

  3. This post has inspired me. ^^ I feel like Fanny is in my head saying that she's not a villain. I believe i'm going to have to write Fanny defending herself. ^^


  4. I, totally, agree with your assessment of the characters and actors.


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