As you know, I'm all for blogging about hot-looking actors in period costume. Any excuse! So an article in the Observer newspaper at the weekend was a bit of a gift. Under the headline of "Farewell to the rugged look as new male beauties sweep all before them" it suggested that the leading men of film and TV are becoming interchangeable. Gone are the days of actors with such individual looks and charisma as Marlon Brando and Al Pacino and in there place are bland clones. Among the new breed of actors cited were Zac Efron, Edward Pattinson and Jonathan Rhys Myers, whose appealing baby eyes apparently sealed the role of Henry VIII in The Tudors (odd when you think about it, since of all the things that Henry was renowned for, his baby face wasn't one of them). Experts claim that these boy-men are chosen for their cherub cheeks and gentle jaws, and that women prefer them because they associate these softer looks with fidelity and warmth.
So what is going on? What happened to the strong, masculine hero? Surely male sex appeal has traditionally been associated with men who are handsome rather than pretty, rugged rather than soft? Even if they were smooth (I'm thinking Leslie Howard as Sir Percy Blakeney in The Scarlet Pimpernel) they had a core of steel beneath. I'm not sure I would have felt quite the same about Richard Sharpe if he had been played by Chace Crawford. And what about all those cowboys in the wild west? It's wild for a reason and they have to be man enough to deal with that.
The newspaper article suggests that this change towards beta rather than alpha man has been progressing for about fifteen years and that it started with actors like Leonardo di Caprio and Jonny Lee Miller, gathered pace with Orlando Bloom and is now reaching its peak. Certainly I've found something lacking in the historical films that featured these actors. I found Orlando Bloom more convincing as an elf than a crusader and although I loved the film Plunkett and Macleane, I wanted Macleane to be ruthless as well as charming. It takes a certain je ne sais quoi to fill a crusader's armour or a highwayman's boots. On the other hand, I'm not sure that I actually buy the idea that Jonathan Rhys Meyers is a baby-faced Henry VIII. He certainly portrays the part with a convincing violence, lust and cruelty.
There isn't that much original historical drama on TV in the UK these days (more's the pity) and I'm wondering if this is also the case in the US, Australia and elsewhere. However a glance at the most recent BBC offering, Robin Hood, suggests that there is definitely some truth in this theory about boys-instead-of-men. In Robin Hood it is left to the fabulous Richard Armitage to represent the oppressed alpha man whilst Robin and some of his merry men are the equivalent of Sherwood Forest's boy band. New boy Archer might just buck the trend. I like the style of Robin Hood. It's funny, irreverent, has some good plot twists and makes no attempts to be historically accurate, rather like The Tudors. As long as I suspend my disbelief at the door I can enjoy it but I'd still like a hero with a bit more substance (I don't mean physically!)
What do you think? Do you think these boys can be convincing historical heroes and who would you cast in a historical drama? I'm offering a copy of my latest book, The Scandals of an Innocent, to the most creative suggestion!