Aug 2, 2010

Another Try

When it comes to Richard Armitage's characters,
I've been known to play favorites. 
I seem to blog about two of them in particular most often:
Can you blame me?

Plus, another has been stealing the spotlight lately:

I know that as great as Gisborne, JT & Lucas are, this blog needs more diversity. 
Other RA characters need their turn, after all! So in an effort to add something different to the mix,
it's time to take another look at one of the Johns.  No, not Thornton or Porter... Standring.
I first watched "Sparkhouse" last September on YouTube (see here) and pretty much hated it.
The background music is terrible, I'm not fond of "Wuthering Heights," which "Sparkhouse" is
loosely based upon (or any tragic love story for that matter... give me my happy endings, dang it!)
Plus, pre-makeover John Standring made me cringe with pity and discomfort
at the sight of that multi-colored coat, mop of hair and shy/dorky behavior.

Now before you Sparkhouse-lovers give me a piece of your mind,
I decided to give it a second chance and rewatch.
I no longer hate it... in fact, I sort of liked it.

The acting is great.  I was impressed by Sarah Smart (fiesty Carol),
Joe McFadden (jerk-wad Andrew), Holly Grainger (sweet-faced Lisa) and of course
Richard (dorky, yet loveable John).  Their characters were believable... after all,
we're supposed to dislike Andrew, question Carol's judgement, and find John awkward.

Two of my favorite scenes:

About JS's shyness... I know many RA fans LOVE that aspect about him.
This role shows Richard's ability to become someone completely different from his heartthrob self.

Thanks to this rewatch, I also realized WHY JS and this story struck a chord with me. 
John reminds me of a guy I dated  in college who was also very shy and unsure of himself. 
(We'll call him "Paul" for the sake of this story.)  I knew this Paul fellow had always liked me.
He was cute and pleasant company, which is  just what I needed after suffering heartbreak  from my
first love... the ol' highschool sweetheart, "Jack."  However, my story didn't end like Sarah's. 
I didn't always retain strong feelings for Jack (like Sarah did for Andrew) so there wasn't any crazy
drama there, and soon realized  that as much as I cared for Paul, life isn't about taking the "safe" option,
and we parted as friends. The good news is things worked out for the best.  That year, I met and fell
head-over-heals for my husband.  As for Paul and Jack, they both ended up marrying beautiful young ladies
who are perfect matches for them.  So bits of "Sparkhouse" remind me of my past... and although the
show doesn't end in a way I'd prefer, it makes me very grateful for MY happy ending. :)

If you haven't yet watched "Sparkhouse," I recommend seeing it.
(And if you don't like it at first, give it another try later.) 
Here's a "Sparkhouse" fanvid by neelma to give you a feel for the story.
*Remember to pause the blog's background music (bottom of screen) before viewing.*

In other Standring-related news,
you must check out Teena's JS calendar HERE
(along with some other beauties) which I enjoyed.


Skully said...

Oh lordy that coat is a doozy!

Starheart said...

I wonder if it's telling that I never even noticed the coat until browsing the forums. Just too caught up in the story, and with John Standring. Or maybe because it really fits into the run down cottage setting.

Enjoyed Sparkhouse, because I like to imagine that Sarah gets over Andrew and lives happily ever after with John. Sigh.

Anonymous said...

It's definitely worth seeing for Richard's performance. He completely disappears into this character. But Carol is such a lying psychotic wench you just feel sorry for John Standering. Believable yes, but Carol needed medication and time in a mental facility followed by a long time in therapy. Any sympathy she might have garnered she lost when she killed Andrew's dog just to get back at his family for saying mean things about her. She rejected offers of reconciliation. And did anyone else hear the music from the shower scene in "Psycho" when she said, "I'm not the other woman, she is." (or whatever it was exactly) when talking about Andrew's wife?


And then was *never* honest with John. Even when she was admitting her dishonestly she couldn't be honest with him. And then she turns a gun on him. And then even after all that, he tried to help her at the very end, she walks away from him.

@Rob said...

This was not NOT a fav of mine. Althou RA was great and believable. I can appreciate the re-interpretaion of WH but it was just kinda bad. I watched in once. Although his step daugther ended up being Meg (love Meg) on Season 3 RH ep 10.

My hubby and I always say there are like ten actors in the UK and they recycle them in every TV show and movie. :)

Anonymous said... sounds like you need to watch more British Television and Movies.

MillyMe said...

I think Richard's performance in Sparkhouse is one of his most important. It's probably quite easy to play sunny Harry Kennedy, the handsome stranger, but something else to play John Standring.It's such an unselfish role and I think only a great actor would mine it for its potential as Richard did. Sally Wainwright has based it on Wuthering Heights with sex reversals, the Cathy character representing wild Heathcliff.

I don't actually think we're supposed to dislike Andrew. We're supposed to feel that Carol and his love for each other is so incredibly strong and he's so drawn to her, that he ultimately destroys his own life, metaphorically and literally. But then Joseph McFadden had Richard to play against who, because of his unique talent, has us caring deeply for his character.

I think that for Sally Wainwright, John Standring represents the Yorkshire landscape. Very few see immediate beauty in it, it seems uncouth, but it withstands centuries of storms and endures.

pi said...

I, too, watched it on YT, and I, too, didn't care much for it. Best part for me was when he got his hair cut- actually took my breath away. It may be shallow, but I can't help involuntary responses.

JS was a secondary role at best, and since Armitage plays it with his usual reserved style, the terrific acting and character are easy to miss; he really does need to be front and centre, have the camera linger over the terrains of his face and voice.

I heartily disliked the rest of the characters. Andrew was revolting, Carol not much better. A lot of adolescent angst that they never got over. Standring was a lonely guy and down to earth and expected little though he did seem to grow in stature over time. But I found that confusing. I bet you it wasn't in the script. I bet you Armitage created a backstory and just basically directed himself (as usual, LOL).

And who would have thought that when a guy got his hair cut, his entire manner would change. LOL. Reminds me of that 50's stereotype of the mousy girl in glasses who, when the fellow whips the specs off suddenly becomes ragingly beautiful and just as suddenly grows bosoms LOL.

Thanks for the review and providing an opportunity for newbies like me to discuss his performances/characters. I guess I should give it another go (when I have nothing better to do) for the sake of his performance (i.e., FF to the good bits). I also think that Guy and John Thornton were absolutely compelling characters in a way that the scripts/direction/ensemble don't allow Lucas North to be. But then, no actor gets to do a tour de force every time, so I figure we have been doubly blessed.

Anonymous said...

It wasn't the haircut. It was getting what he wanted in getting Carol and the farm. It was having Carol need him as a man as a provider/rescuer, a husband, and sexual partner that bolstered his confidence.

Joan Crenshaw said...

I enjoyed Sparkhouse, but I really detested Andrew and Carol. It's unfortunate that what was seen as painfully romantic in Wuthering Heights doesn't translate well to our current culture. They just came across as pathetic.

I didn't think John's manner changed when he cut his hair. I think he blossomed under Carol's small bit of attention. She asked him to marry her, he'd sold his house to save her farm -- everything was on the line for him and that gave him the courage to run Andrew off.

It always breaks my heart to see John asking her if there'll be sex and apologizing for his "performance" in the back of the Rover.

During my first viewing I was trying to plug in Catherine and Heathcliff and Earnshaw, but it wasn't that straight-forward. You can get from "Clueless" to "Emma" with more transparency.

Second viewing I was absolutely impressed by the fact that John was the one GOOD human being in the entire cast. I thought the ending threw that away and I do wish they'd done the sequel.

If Carol and John worked hard for the common goal of saving Sparkhouse, they might stand a chance to actually grow together and fall in genuine love. Carol would need some psychiatric help to get over the incest and Andrew's suicide. But she wasn't sleeping with everyone in town -- she'd been her father's victim -- so if she could heal, she might be able to actually form a relationship that would last.

Now after the dog incident, I'd have hung her myself.

As for Richard's performance, it was (as MillyMe said) important and unselfish and VERY subtle. My favorite scene is when carol's gone to his house and they're sitting in the two old chairs. He FILLS the chair -- there's a sense of how big he really is -- and yet in closeup, the character's kindness is apparent in small gestures and movements.


Maria Grazia said...

I've got a soft spot for John Standring. I really have. I've seen Sparkhouse several times and love all the scenes with Carol and John. All of them.

pi said...

To all those who have offered such a fine rendering of John. I admit my review at this point must be very shallow (and the bit about John's hair was meant to be lighthearted- yikes!). I've only seen it once and that was on You Tube. I've read comments like yours before and I marvel at how much I must have missed. Bummer. I'll have to work on that. Thanks!

But you'll never convince me that Carol deserved him although I did feel for her. I think she barely noticed him, really.

Leslieg said...

Sparkhouse and JS will always be my favourite, I think, because Sweetie John gave Richard his first real chance to show his range. I love the gentle, steady, shy character he portrayed. Mind, I've now watched it over 200 times!!! I didn't watch it when it first aired in Canada, because I loathe Wuthering Heights, although I caught a few minutes (scene at top of stairs filmed in Heben Bridge.)

Twinkling Moon said...

@Nat, I had no idea that Sparkhouse was on Youtube. Yet one more piece of info I get from this fantastic blog :)

I am not a fan of Wuthering Heights. I don't understand Heathcliff at all, I always found him very creepy and scary :( So I may have to think about checking this version out, although I love RA. Nat, your rewatch review of it makes me think that maybe I should give it a shot.

"My hubby and I always say there are like ten actors in the UK and they recycle them in every TV show and movie. :)"

LOL! I think the exact same thing. Every time I watch a UK production I find myself saying "didn't I just see that person in..."

Unknown said...

Wow I'm kinda surprised that not everyone loves Sparkhouse. LOL I am not a huge Wuthering Heights fan either but I still really enjoyed this...even though Carol was bad and I hated Andrew. Even with the bad hair and bad jacket JS was absolutely adorable and lovable for me. And I love that pic you have of JS and Carol when he says (something like) "don't think you can't tell me things"....awww!

mulubinba said...

I enjoyed Sparkhouse much better watching it on DVD compared with YouTube. A clever and moving performance by RA and JS is a favourite character of mine (... but I felt so sorry for him most of the time!). I disliked Andrew and Carol - Andrew's parents were just as bad but I can't forgive Carol for her murder of the dog and her treatment of John. Allun Armstrong played a very strong but rather horrifying father. @twinkling Moon above, it is worth watching :)

diveknit said...

I have a weak spot for someone like JS and RA did a fabulous job of playing him. He is so subtle, but strong and committed and so loving. You just know that he would do anything for you and love you always :)

I did enjoy watching Sparkhouse and liked it well enough, but I do have to confess to switch over some of the scenes with Carol and Andrew, since I didn't like them both enough.

@Rob said...

@Milly Me -- You raise an excellent point (s). As always, everyone made me think about this piece in a new way.

@TM -- I know it. You tend to see the same actors in a variety of UK productions.

Joan Crenshaw said...


As the kid who lost the glasses, cut the hair and learned to apply makeup under the tutelage of a dorm friend, the truth is that it DOES have a positive affect: I stood taller which DID make my bosom appear to grow. I did get your point was light-hearted, I just saw it differently.

What I love is that, although it may SEEM like we see many of the same actors over and over, the fact is that they WORK and they work into their 40's and well beyond what American tv/films do.

Can you SEE an American producer casting Keith Allen as the Sheriff when pretty "older" actor about 30 is available?

Mulubinba, agreed -- Sparkhouse is much better on dvd. It was a no-brainer for me to buy it because I had the region-free dvd player and I had read many good reviews.

I DO have a copy of Sparkhouse that I will happily lend to any American who has a Region-Free DVD player.

Nat, if anyone wants to borrow this, can she email you and you can pass on my email?

OK, back to trying to recreate my weekly status report. Can I call this time spent with customer discussing data quality? I think not.

pi said...

@Joan Crenshaw,

What a wonderful story of your transformation! I stand happily corrected and appreciate the correction. Heck, I get depressed if I get a bad haircut!

I also think you're right- that You Tube is not the way to watch anything Armitage is in; so much is lost. I don't have a region free player (here in Canada), but maybe I will one day (or hack one when I have a spare) and then I'll give it a go. I'll shut up now :).

Judith Johnson said...

Was forced to watch this on Youtube
(10 minutes a clip)with Spanish subtitles, which actually helped me translate the accents of several characters as I am used to RP English.

I have always considered the novel Wuthering Heights a real downer of a read, parts of it are gripping but the rest is wilderness and madness, like the moors itself. *Oh God, to see Richard as Heathcliff* Plus,semi-necrophilia and inter-generational inbreeding are not very romantic when you come right down to it.

In my opinion, this rework of Bronte's story set in the present with some post-modern sex changes is kinda interesting but doesn't work as well as the switch of Lizzy and Darcy's characters in the wonderful North and South. Plus I got confused Heathcliff's character is embodied in Carol (Sarah Smart), Cathy becomes Andrew (Joe McFaddlen) and poor John Standring (Richard Armitage) is an amalgam of the doomed siblings, Isabella and Edgar Hareton, right? I think Heathcliff's character works really well as a female role but Cathy's repression and hysteria don't translate as well for a male part. Also I did spotted Holly Grainger (the actress who plays spunky Meg in RH S3) as the inbred teenager!

And yes, RA is good in it, although his body language and appearance are quite different than the heroic Mr. Thornton North & South or the sneering sexy Sir Guy. I do not care for RA as a beardless shaggy brunette but I agree he is cute during the haircut scene but that hardly makes up for three hours of enduring searing tragedy (and no smirks).

Twinkling Moon said...


:* Plus,semi-necrophilia and inter-generational inbreeding are not very romantic when you come right down to it. " LOL!

@Mulubinba, I will take your rec along with Nat's under advisement :)But I will have to watch it via Youtube as I don't have a region free player and not able to hack existing one yet (having gotten around to trying to do it)

flandersdreamer said...

I watched Sparkhouse AFTER N&S and that's was very wrong of me!It prevented me of realising what a splendid Richard actually was.

I forced myself to watch it again later and THEN I really warmed to JS the way he deserves.

Richard is a very talented actor, period.

And when tou allow yourself to look into those sensitive blue eyes of him, you're totally hooked.

Fanny/iz4blue said...

I fell in love with Sparkhouse from the get go, with all its dysfunctional drama which I think the soundtrack supports. What a great BBC drama, rough around the edges, not suited for a genteel public. What shocked me most is how Carol talked to Lisa at times in helping her to defend herself in school. (my reaction is perhaps cultural and a sign of the times?)
I didn't notice the coat probably because i came from that era. Now it feels like you just want to take if off ;)
This story makes more sense compared to Wuthering Heights because you can see where each dysfuntion comes from and in my book Andrew is just as much abused, just differently.
As far as the performance it was a great one by all involved, obviously by the emotions it evoked as noted in the commentary. I doubt we'll ever see RA in such a role again and in my book it was stellar.
For me the music served the purpose of portreying the hypnotic and claustrophia of the relationships in juxtaposition of the wide open landscape. I often wonder when living in such beauty every day can you still see it..then again not everyone would see beauty in a rough landscape.

Nat at RA FanBlog said...

The first time I watched "Sparkhouse," I was too upset by the fact that John was married out of convenience rather than love. I thought it wasn't fair and he deserved better. This time around, I was expecting that so I was able to focus on other stuff, like the acting. Like Ragtag, I imagined Carol's wounds being healed and her falling in love with John, living happily ever after. (You know... to make my own happy ending for them.)

Fanny/iz4blue said...

My first time watch was also on YT but with English subtitles. RAFrenzy has a clip featured in her RA showcase today.
@Pi:that is hilarious but that is the point with a character like JS, you just know there is a lot under the surface. I could almost feel sorry for him but he went into his marriage with Carol with his eyes open. It's a different time and a different place...

And @Nat: your answer might be found in fanfic?

kaprekar said...

I think Richard gives a fine performance in SH but of course he is not the lead. I did find it enjoyable to watch though I am not sure I would have started on it without the incentive of Richard being there. But I think that it was a really important role for Richard as it opened the door to so much more. Without Sparkhouse I doubt Richard would have been cast as Thornton.

That coat is bad, though the one in the Vicar of Dibley comic relief special may be worse!

Myrtle said...

I adore Sparkhouse. Carol is traumatised by her childhood experiences and to be cruelly denied her first love added to her wounds. RA was brilliant as JS, so sensitve and vulnerable. I too hope Carol and John found happiness in the end...??

Anonymous said...

A lot of people suffer similar trauma to what Carol did, and don't walk around killing people's pets, destroying property, stealing, lying, and generally being bitches. I have no sympathy for Carol at all.

From adulthood on she and Andrew pretty much screwed up their own lives, Andrew lacked the courage to actually fulfill his love for Carol, but BOTH of them were too selfish and immature to let the other move on in their lives.

If you call that love which I don't. That was obsession which is all about selfishness. It's the difference between "I want what is best for you" and "I want what I want".

Without serious therapy, I don't think there would have been a happy ending for Carol and John. And a sign of that was the closing credits where Carol walked away from him when he was trying to help her.

But this is why it is such a good adaptation fo the novel: The only sympathetic character in it had to be inserted. And Armitage's performance is brilliant in how he utterly vanished into John. As observed above, it was an "unselfish performance", and as such the best in the piece.

Myrtle said...

@Anon, I agree, sympathy is not helpful for someone in Carol's situation, rather, empathy is a more productive emotion. We don't have to condone what she did but unnderstand why her behaviour was so damaging, not only to herself but to others. I think the Andrew and Carol scenario also highlights the challenges (some might say prejudice) faced by Andrews parents, his mother in particular. Not easy for them, but their reaction would have a futher damamging impact on Carol.
You are right, I think John and Carols realtionship would have a greater chance of survival with professional support to help Carol come to terms with her past.

As you say, many individuals suffer similar experiences to Carol and each deal with it differently. Unfortunately for Carol postive support seems to have been thin on the ground.