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  • Writer's pictureT M Thorne

The Rupert Campbell-Black Conundrum

Is it always the case that fictional heartthrobs are destined to be on-screen disappointments?

Anyone who has read Jilly Cooper novels I’m sure will agree. Once you’ve fallen for the roguish charms of Rupert Campbell-Black between the sheets of a paperback, poor Marcus Gilbert who played him in the on-screen adaptation can't help but come off a poor second. Perhaps I've picked a bad example; Riders and Rivals weren't the highest quality telly ever made, but regardless of that the casting just didn't live up to the devastatingly gorgeous RCB the readers know and lust after.

There was something menacing about that broad black back and beautifully shaped blond head, a totally deceptive languor concealing the rampant sexuality.

Nope, just got getting that from the TV version, sorry. And perhaps that's a problem with fictional heroes. Maybe they can't stand up to real life scrutiny because we all pour so much of our own personal preferences into the characters, and because of that they morph from the character written on the page. After all, apparently Cooper based Campbell-Black on Brigadier Andrew Parker Bowles (ex-husband of Camilla), and he certainly wasn't who I had in mind for my Rupert Campbell Black.

If you don't remember the onscreen version here's a clip. It's really NSFW and you can skip to 0.25 seconds in if you want to get straight to RCB (naked and in bed).

Oddly though, I don’t think this is as much of a problem in other genres. Look at the Harry Potter series for example; I read all the Harry Potter books and was deeply invested in the characters before seeing a single movie, and yet all the characters seemed spot-on. I suppose if you get the leading characters right the audience can overlook most other things.

Having said that I still don’t understand why Dudley was blonde with blue eyes in the books and dark-haired in the film. Perhaps they thought he would be too visually similar to Malfoy? Although that seems unlikely, doesn't it? Surely they give their audience a bit more credit than that? Perhaps they felt they'd found the perfect actor for the part in Harry Melling, but even so, why not give him blonde hair?

Anyhoo back to the matter at hand: our romantic heroes. Even going back through the classics it seems to be a case of casting whoever had top cinema billing at the time. Take Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights for example. Look at the actors that have played Heathcliff over the years: Lawrence Olivier, Timothy Dalton, Ralph Fiennes, and even Cliff Richard (apparently in a musical version which passed me by). None of those are quite the rugged, tortured character I pictured.

Here is Lawrence Olivier giving a very refined version of the rough-and-ready Heathcliff. He may have his sleeves rolled up but he's still as posh as you like.

Nope. Not my Heathcliffe. Definitely not.

Perhaps I’m biased. As a hormone-fuelled teenager I studied A Level English, and two of the books we obsessed over were Wuthering Heights and Pride and Prejudice. In a class predominately filled with girls the discussions on slow days always turned towards who you fancied more: Heathcliff or Mr Darcy. (I was always firmly in the Heathcliff camp, but as I’ve gone through life I think I’m more of a Mr Darcy girl now). But I digress.

Or perhaps I don’t.

It’s exactly the same problem with Mr Darcy. Looking at the casting in big screen versions of P&P we have Lawrence Oliver (again), Matthew MacFadyen, and of course Colin Firth, who was lovely it’s true (especially in that wet shirt) but he’s still not a patch on the Mr Darcy of my imagination. Not to mention all the spin-off Mr Darcy’s like Colin Firth (again) in Bridget Jones, Elliot Cowan in Lost in Austen, Matthew Rhys in Death Comes to Pemberley etc. All of whom where brilliant and gorgeous and enjoyable in their own right, but they’re not my Mr Darcy.

And, because it seems wrong not to; here's Colin Firth coming out the lake:

You're welcome.

But the Mr Darcy of my imagination is still sexier.

Going full circle back to Jilly Cooper, as she had Helen say:

The English men were a bitter disappointment. too. None of them looked like Darcy, or Rochester, or Heathcliff, or Burgo Fitzgerald or Sebastian Flyte

Maybe it just comes with the territory. Perhaps you'd never get a consensus about the right man to play Heathcliff or Darcy. Having said that my personal feeling is you could put Tom Hardy into any romantic hero role and he’d make a good fist of it.

What do you think? Can you think of any on-screen romantic heroes that live up to their fictional inspiration?


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