With their basset hound earlobes and noses like ripe figs these venerable gentlemen come at us from the deep period drama well of the BBC in all their shuddering glory. Delivering their lines in dulcet tones they draw us into times gone by and deliver for our viewing pleasure stories brimming with resplendent costumes and high drama. Don’t ya just love it?
I think of Alun Armstrong who played Inspector Bucket in the 2005 adaptation of Charles Dickens’s Bleak House. I love his face! And talk about figgy noses. When he asks the Lady Deadlock’s butler for a pinch of snuff you actually feel sorry for the little bits being drawn into that vast cavern. But you can’t take your eyes away. His copious talents were also evident in Little Dorrit – yeah – Dickens again. Playing Jeremiah Flintwinch, Mr. Armstrong was as nasty as nasty gets and viewers the world over cheered when he finally got his due. A superb actor to the end.
Also starring in Bleak House is Charles Dance playing the despicable Mr. Tulkinghorn. He makes us hate Mr. T. primarily by the skillful use of his eyes. The rest of him barely moves. The squint is what gets you. Oh – and the slight dipping of the chin as he tells you you’re something less than a burnt crumpet if you don’t come around to his way of thinking. You kind of want to march over and give him a smart blow on the cheek, but the evil in those eyes holds you back. Simply delightful.
And Tom Wilkerson! His portrayal of Mr. Pecksniff in – yet another Dickens’s – Martin Chuzzlewit is beyond brilliant. His depiction of that smarmy sycophant brought our understanding of the term to new heights. Now a whole other generation knows what Pecksniffian means. Tom is more or less a whole body actor, or at least he was in this, and that acting is inspired.
Not to leave the younger fellows out; how about Tom Hardy in the 2009 version of Wuthering Heights? Get outta the way Sir Lawrence Olivier! What promise hath young Tom? More than most of us will ever have or want.
Then we have Matthew Macfadyen, also in Little Dorrit and giving us a passable Mr. Darcy in the 2005 production of Pride and Prejudice. Also consider the dreamy Richard Armitage – he of North and South fame and Robin Hood – playing a truly dastardly Guy of Gisborne. He also possesses a nose of great promise. Fig anyone?
I could go on and on. I've only dipped lightly into the vast and briny ocean of British actors. Suffice it to say the best ones grow into their faces and use them to full advantage. Don’t give me pretty or chiseled or some impossible Greek god. Botox – gasp! Never. None of that for me. Give me a man who’s daily faced the dragon and come away scarred and wiser with a well worn, weather beaten face that fascinates. And bless my soul, you’ve got to hand it to those Brits – they do it better than anyone.