Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

iain glen Archive

Tuesday

7

April 2015

7

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Character Study: Sir Richard Carlisle

Written by , Posted in Blog, Downton Abbey, Pop Culture

It’s not particularly hard to see why season two of Downton Abbey is often considered the best. The World War One plotline was perfectly executed and gave the show a feeling of being more than just a soap opera about rich people’s problems (not that there’s anything wrong with that). It wouldn’t be fair to solely credit the plotline for this delightfulness as the new characters played an important role in the success of the season.

At first glance, it’s easy to write off Sir Richard Carlisle as purely villainous. He certainly ended his season long arc as the bad guy. When you look at the newspaper mogul’s tenure as a whole, you see that there was more to him than just his perpetual rudeness.

Iain Glen was tasked with a difficult job in portraying Sir Richard. Julian Fellowes never tried very hard to convince the viewers that Sir Richard actually stood a shot at taking Mary away from Downton. His proposal to Lady Mary ranks among the least romantic courtships in the history of television and most of the characters expressed doubt that Mary would actually go through with marrying him.

Sir Richard was a necessary evil. It was important to prolong the inevitable marriage of Mary and Matthew. This is how television works. With that in mind, it could’ve been easy to not care about Sir Richard as it was always clear that he wasn’t going to be around for very long.

It seems kind of surprising that Sir Richard proposed in episode two, his first appearance, and managed to hang around for the whole season in a completely loveless engagement (though Sir Richard was absent for episodes three and four). Early on, he proved his use by tracking down Vera Bates and saving Mary from public embarrassment had the first Mrs. Bates revealed her transgressions with the Turkish gentleman.

The difficulty with Sir Richard was that he needed to not be sympathetic to prevent the audience side from siding with him over Mary or from too closely resembling Lavinia Swire, who was conveniently killed, off allowing Matthew to save face with the viewers. Mary herself isn’t particularly likable. Sir Richard needed to be more despicable than her, but not excessively tedious to the point that he wouldn’t be able to hang around for the duration of the season. This balance was no easy task.

When you think about it, Sir Richard’s crimes weren’t really all that bad. He had some shady business with the Swire’s early on and his attempt at spying on Lady Mary was foolish, but neither act should really condemn him as a character. It was pretty clear that Mary did not love him and we weren’t really given an alternative motive for his failed efforts to recruit Anna for some espionage other than a genuine desire to please his fiancé.

It was perfectly reasonable of Sir Richard to be concerned about Mary’s proximity to Matthew. She once loved Matthew but she never loved Sir Richard. If you were in Sir Richard’s shoes, wouldn’t you be a tad concerned about your fiancé hanging around her ex?

Carlisle’s big crimes were that he was rude and that nobody liked him. Other than that, he was perfectly respectable and a great fit for Lady Mary. Sir Richard’s status as a self-made man likely made him respectable to many viewers, which is a testament to Fellowes’ writing. It would have been easy to create a villainous character for Mary to fool around with for a season before finally giving in to her love of Matthew, but the more challenging route paid off.

Instead, Sir Richard was given depth. Iain Glen has a knack for playing sketchy knights (he also plays Ser Jorah on Game of Thrones, another man who lusts after a girl he can’t have) and with Sir Richard, he portrayed a character who had a clear and finite purpose, but was surprisingly entertaining to watch.

I suspect that Fellowes had Sir Richard in mind when he created the character of Miss Sarah Bunting. Like Sir Richard, Miss Bunting was an odious character who clearly wasn’t going to be around for very long, but that didn’t mean that she wasn’t given depth and a couple redeeming qualities. Perhaps they would’ve been perfect for each other.

Sir Richard came and played his part on a show he was never going to be part of for very long. To some, he might be a character that you love to hate or just plain hate without any love at all (like his relationship with Mary). As for me, I liked him. He was perfect for Mary, but that’s not what was best for the show.

Next on Character Study, we’ll look at Ally McBeal’s Ling Woo 

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Sunday

8

June 2014

1

COMMENTS

The Case for Strong Belwas

Written by , Posted in Blog, Game of Thrones

As Ser Jorah took his leave from the service of Daenerys Targaryen, I found myself weeping for a reason unrelated to the fate of the exiled knight. With Grey Worm’s expanded storyline to include a peculiar and implausible romance with Missandei, it’s clear that the show has deviated from the books in an effort to expand the appeal of Daenerys’ supporting characters. Which makes the exclusion of one of her most interesting companions all the more puzzling.

In the Song of Ice and Fire books, Strong Belwas is clearly one of Daenerys’ better retainers. The massive eunuch former gladiator provides comic relief in a storyline that’s often desperate for it. And yet the show excludes him even though its elevated the humor in characters such as The Hound and Bronn.

The problem is that the show didn’t have a natural point for Strong Belwas to enter the fray. In the books, Strong Belwas arrives in Quarth in season two along with Ser Barristan, who is disguised as his squire. It’s hard to fault the show for doing away with Ser Barristan’s disguise given that it’s rather unnecessary in the grand scheme of things and would be hard to pull off on television. Introducing Strong Belwas alongside Ser Grandfather wouldn’t have been impossible, but it wasn’t entirely necessary either. Remember, the books have much more downtime with the Targaryen plotline than the show does.

That doesn’t mean that Strong Belwas couldn’t join the show at any given point. His association with Illyrio Mopantis gives him a fair bit of leeway to join the show far later than he did in the books. The show could simply have him come at the bequest of Mopantis. This of course could easily be worked into the show next season when Tyrion Lannister makes his escape from King’s Landing.

The big reason I think that the show doesn’t want Strong Belwas around is that he’s a eunuch. The show has two eunuchs already and has explored the horrors of that practice with Varys and Grey Worm. Strong Belwas is largely a comedic relief character who mostly wants to eat and kill things. He doesn’t care about being a eunuch. The show would care though.

The show has cut back on the importance of Daenerys’ party as a whole. Her Dothraki bloodriders and Brown Ben Plumm are absent from her storylines, choosing instead to focus on Ser Jorah, Ser Barristan, Grey Worm, and Daario Naharis. Given the fact that the show has limited time to devote to Daenerys, this isn’t surprising and it isn’t necessarily a bad thing either.

Strong Belwas isn’t a character who needs a lot of time devoted to his development. In the books, he doesn’t do much that isn’t involved with the aforementioned gluttony and lust to commit homicide. He doesn’t have a lot of depth. And yet, he’s a fan favorite.

It’s unclear as to how much of a void Ser Jorah’s departure really creates. But his absence is one less character involved with Daenerys that we care about. Given the slow pace of her story for the foreseeable future, it’s hard to argue that he wouldn’t have improved her storyline.

Deviations from the source material are to be expected, but those deviations should serve to improve the experience as it’s translated to screen. Excluding a beloved fan favorite doesn’t serve anyone. There’s simply no reason not to utilize the talents of Strong Belwas on Game of Thrones. The mother of dragons knows it and so do we the people.

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