It’s been a while since I’ve weighed in on the mad cap mayhem that is Richard Armitage fan fervor. As long-term readers of this blog will know, it’s somewhat of a fascination of mine. Why does this man attract such enthusiastic supporters? Is it the roles? The looks? The talent? RA is not the only handsome, talented actor out there to have scored a succession of wonderful roles – why all the fuss? In the past I’ve mused on the possible awakening of desire in RA’s female fans, lately it’s occurred to me that there is another aspect of the desire equation that needs pointing out. In fact it’s the precursor that makes the “awakening of desire” possible, and may go some way to answering the question that Servetus rightly pointed out was largely unanswered in my previous post: “Why does *Richard Armitage in particular* provoke this reaction of potentiating women’s acknowledgment of their inner passion?”
“God I’ve missed you..” Lucas North watches his ex-wife, Elisavieta Starkova, walk away in 7.4
When I began composing this piece it was not my initial intention to answer the “Why Richard?” question, but as it has transpired it seems that this is precisely what I’ve attempted to do, albeit in a half baked fashion! So here it goes. To my mind, there is clear common ground in three (possibly four) of RA’s most popular roles; John Thornton, Guy of Gisborne, and Lucas North (I note that John Porter is also popular, but as his appearance occurred well after the establishment of the fervorish RA fan base, he is excluded from the discussion for this reason). No, it’s not their broodiness (although one could argue it’s a recurring theme), it is their intense desire for one woman. Thornton for Margret, Guy for Marian, and Lucas for Elisavieta (I have not seen all of the productions that RA has appeared in, so I can’t address this subject in relation to some of his older roles). The deep longing that each character has, I suspect, is not only what poured fuel on the fan fervor flame to begin with (in North and South) but is also what has kept it burning. Desire has not only been a strong element in each of these characters, it has also been central to the stories in which they appear. Even Harry Kennedy, who RA played in the Vicar of Dibley, could be placed in this category as well. And needless to say, romantic desire is something that Richard Armitage portrays incredibly well. Is this what lies at the heart of RA fan fervor?
Why would this shared element among these roles be important? Well, some say (including sexologists and sex therapists), that what women want more than anything else in this world, is to be desired (incidentally I find the question of “what women want” somewhat absurd as we are not one homogeneous group who all want and think the same things.. but perhaps there are some things that rise above our diversity and are common between us in certain cultural contexts). I must clarify that being desired by a man is not necessarily the same as being loved by him. One can love another person without an intense desire for them, and conversely, one can desire someone without loving them (Did Guy really love Marian? I think that can be debated but his desire for her is indisputable). RA has embodied a number of characters who desire one woman in the way that many women would like to be desired themselves (OK, so perhaps that statement might be a bit dubious in relation to Guy of Gisborne, but taking into consideration the amount of Guy fan fic out there, perhaps it’s not!).
Before proceeding further I want to take a moment to define desire in the context of this discussion. Pi asked in response to the previous post on this subject – What kind of desire are we talking about here? While in that post I was addressing the ill-defined desire within a fan, here I am talking about the desire depicted on screen by the characters RA has played (which is connected to the fan’s desire by its resonance with her). Again, it is ill-defined, but a few adjectives will at least narrow the parameters a bit. Desire for another person is not the kind of narcissistic sexual desire of a character like Lee in Coldfeet. It’s a strong, deep and enduring longing. A craving, a yearning, a lust – that is singular, palpable, and earnest. The earnestness of the desire is probably what is most important here. If you’ve ever felt the desire of a man who is not earnest in his longing of you, you can dismiss him without a second thought. A man who is earnest in his desire of you on the other hand, if you don’t feel the same in return, it’s quite a tricky situation to contend with. Been there, done that? Then perhaps you can appreciate the fuzzy definition of desire that I’m working with here (which doesn’t particularly define what the desirer is desiring).
John Thornton is unable to hide his distress and face Mr. Bell upon mention of his unrequited love, Margret Hale.
The inclusion of Lucas North in the company of Thornton and Gisborne might not be clear to some, so let me explain. Without giving away too much of what is transpiring in series nine of Spooks (please refrain from S9 spoilers in your comments!), taking into consideration the personal story lines related to Lucas North in series seven, eight and nine, what is emerging for me about this character is that he loves deeply. In season seven he longed for his ex-wife Elisavieta. Even though they were divorced before his capture by the FSB, he claims to have thought of nothing but her during his eight year long incarceration. In series eight with Sarah Caulfield (I realise she is enemy number one among many RA fans, but I won’t be joining the chorus of condemnation of her here), even after Lucas learns that she is part of Nightingale, his strong feelings for her remain. He is conflicted, obviously, but is also grief stricken when she dies. In season 9 we learn of a love that has endured over 15 years, a love that he “can’t stay away” from.
Lucas North gently caresses his laptop monitor upon seeing the MI-5 file on his long lost and enduring love, Maya Lahan.
It’s one thing for these characters to want, desire and love a woman on paper, but it’s how this important aspect of these characters is brought to life by Richard Armitage on screen that matters most here. I’m not about to mount an exposition of his performances to provide evidence of his talent in this area – I’ll leave that to others who are more skilled at that kind of analysis than I. In short, however, its the earnestness that RA illuminates in his performance of his characters’ love and desire that I think his fans, in particular, are responding to. If “what a woman most wants” is to be intensely desired (sexually, physically, and emotionally) by a man who feels a longing for her, and only her, it’s not such a stretch to suggest that what they also want, (apparently!), is to watch a man who portrays this exquisitely on screen.
Is this the essence of the Armitage Army’s unparalleled enthusiasm? Is their interest in him driven by his embodiment of the desirer and their desire to be desired? One can’t be 100% sure, and one can’t assume that all his fans/supporters enjoy his work for the same reason, but still, given the common characteristic of desire in all of RA’s most popular roles, I can’t help but suspect that my proposition is not too far from the mark.
Ponder, squee and discuss…