Monday, April 2, 2007

Sexy English Rotters

I don't think English actors make the best villains because they are necessarily superior actors, but for a couple of other reasons: (1) they sound right: There is something about the classic "received pronunciation"* form of English accent that lends itself to a slight flaring of the nostrils as though in reaction to a bad smell in the room, to a lip-curling yet melifluously delivered statement of withering and elegant put-down; (2) they seem intelligent, hence the idea of the evil genius; (3) being foreign in any form to an American audience means they have a whole world of nasty types to play, hence every Nazi in every WWII film ever made was pretty much played by some English chap. And by the way, I'm talking about rotters... elegant, erudite, and cruel. None of your thugs and louts here.

Contenders are Hugh Grant (not when he's being endearingly naughty, but when he's really horrible like in An Awfully Big Adventure, 1995 ), Ralph Fiennes, George Sanders, Ian McKellen, David Warner, Patrick Malahide, etc... but just for fun, let's go back to James Mason! He sure knew a thing or two about the withering put-down. Of course he was given the lines by the screen-writer, but he had a wonderful way of delivering a threat with a slight furrowing of his noble brow, a pursing of his firmly-moulded lips as though pondering his decision with sensitivity.

For a good ten years or so, the great English villain was Alan Rickman. He seethed magnficently, complete with curling lip and narrowing eyes. To Masterpiece Theatre fans he first burst on the villainous scene in The Barchester Chronicles (1982) as the awful Mr. Slope. But for most fans, it was the moment the elevator doors opened in Die Hard (1988) to reveal his Hans Gruber, complete with a posse of follicly-blessed model/dancer Eurotrash thugs.

He held that position for years but in my opinion the mantle has been passed to Jason Isaacs. He was psychotically villainous as Col. William Tavington in The Patriot (2000), enchantingly villainous Captain Hook in Peter Pan (2003), and gorgeously villainous as Lucius Malfoy in some of the Harry Potter films.

Last night on Masterpiece Theatre, they had R.L. Stevenson's Kidnapped (2005). (Jen Star: the guy playing Alan Breck would be great as Jamie Fraser aged 50 or so... gnashing of teeth. Check it out and let me know what you think!) Paul McGann played cruel Col. McNab. He was kind of English villain de rigeur somewhere between Alan Rickman and Jason Isaacs.

So there are my thoughts for tonight. Mmmmm! Such delicious ones. After all, an English rotter is often a sexy rotter.

* less a regional accent than the general accent of eduated people in London and the southeast of England, thereby the centre of power. Not so much posh-sounding as educated-sounding.... (not necessarily being educated).

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