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Richard Armitage, lovable British actor

Updated on February 3, 2015
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Richard Armitage: from the BBC to the big screen

Actor Richard Armitage stole my heart when I saw him playing the role of John Thornton in the BBC miniseries North & South. The brooding mill owner proved to be quite a romantic figure; the character captured the attention of many women and won Armitage legions of devoted fans.

After North & South, he went on to do additional BBC appearances in other mini-series and guest spots on BBC shows like Vicar of Dibley. In 2006, he finally became a series regular, first on Robin Hood and then on MI5.

More recently, he's been gaining attention outside his native England for his roles in feature films -- first as German spy Heinz Kruger in 2011's Captain America, and now as dwarf leader Thorin Oakenshield in Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy. Although Armitage is heavily made up for the role of Thorin (with a wig and other prosthetics), female fans are still enjoying seeing their favorite actor in a different light.

Read on to learn more about British actor Richard Armitage.

North & South: John Thornton

This series will always be my favorite of Richard Armitage's work. North & South explores the cultural differences between the north and the south of England in the Victorian era. The main characters are John Thornton, owner and operator of a cotton mill, and Margaret Hale, a young woman recently relocated from the more sedate country to the south. Margaret struggles with the cultural differences between her former home and the industrial town of Milton, and she finds it difficult to fit in and make a new life there. She eventually befriends some mill workers, including one who leads a strike against the mill owners. (Downton Abbey fans will recognize this actor as Brendan Coyle, who plays John Bates.) Her friendship with the workers puts her in an awkward position, since Thornton learns classical literature from Margaret's father and the two are friends. Thornton disapproves strongly of Margaret's connection to the workers, though he admires her spirit in standing up for them.

I won't reveal more of the plot since I don't want to spoil it for you. Most of the characters in this story are likeable, and the lead characters particularly so. You'd have to be a stone not to have sympathy when Thornton tells his mother that she's the only one who loves him, or when Margaret's mother cries for their life in the south. (There are other emotional moments too, but I'll leave you to discover them for yourself.)

North and South (BBC)
North and South (BBC)

This series will always be my favorite of Richard Armitage's work. North & South explores the cultural differences between the north and the south of England in the Victorian era. The main characters are John Thornton, owner and operator of a cotton mill, and Margaret Hale, a young woman from the south who befriends some mill workers -- including one who leads a strike against the mill owners. (Downton Abbey fans will recognize this actor as Brendan Coyle, who plays John Bates.)

Most of the characters in the story are likeable, and the lead characters particularly so. You'd have to be a stone not to have sympathy when Thornton tells his mother that she's the only one who loves him, or when Margaret's mother cries for their life in the south. (There are other emotional moments too, but I don't want to spoil anything.)

While the story can be dark and sad at times, the ending is beautiful and touching. This series is not to be missed.

 

Richard Armitage on North & South

In this two-part interview, Richard Armitage discusses his North & South role.

Vicar of Dibley: Harry Kennedy

The Vicar of Dibley - A Holy Wholly Happy Ending
The Vicar of Dibley - A Holy Wholly Happy Ending

If you've only seen Richard Armitage in North & South, prepare to see a much different side of him! In the Vicar of Dibley: Wholly Happy Ending, he plays Harry Kennedy, the dashing new man in the village of Dibley -- one that the vicar (Dawn French) has her eye on! This two-part episode was my first exposure to this British series, but I was able to follow the plot well enough and enjoyed the quirky characters and comedy -- not to mention the happy ending.

 

This video takes you behind the scenes of Holy Wholly Happy Ending, the series finale for Vicar of Dibley. Be warned, if you haven't seen these episodes, this video does contain spoilers! (There's also a mini-sequel that was produced for Comic Relief, but the character of Harry Kennedy only makes two brief appearances. You can watch that video in its entirety on YouTube)

Robin Hood: Guy of Gisbourne

In the BBC series Robin Hood, Richard Armitage portrayed Guy of Gisbourne, henchman to the evil and corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham. While Guy wants to stop Robin Hood, he's most interested in trying to win the affection of Maid Marian; he's almost obsessed with her and is determined to make her his wife. Marian doesn't love him, but she's willing to humor his advances when it aligns with her interests.

Robin Hood ran for three seasons. Armitage received both weapons training and horseback riding lessons for his role as Guy of Gisbourne.

Robin Hood: The Complete Series
Robin Hood: The Complete Series

Although I’m a fantasy fan, I’ll admit that this series isn’t one of my favorites. I did find the characters and plot interesting, but the show was a bit campy at times and ultimately lost my interest. Still, if you’re a fan of Richard Armitage and you enjoy the fantasy genre, I’d suggest you give it a try; the episode “Parent Hood” in season one was my favorite and focused highly on Guy of Gisbourne.

 

Guy of Gisbourne fan video

This fan video sets Robin Hood footage to the tune of Die Arzte's 'Nichts in der Welt.' I have to say, this video makes me curious about what I missed by not watching Season 2. Guy of Gisbourne's unrequited love for Marian was one of the more compelling parts of the show. (Warning -- this video has some spoilers.)

MI-5 ("Spooks"): Lucas North

Never one to stay idle, Armitage joined the cast of British spy drama MI-5 (also called "Spooks") while still attached to the Robin Hood series. Armitage played Lucas North, a spy only recently freed after spending eight years in a Russian prison. North appears in seasons 7, 8, and 9 of the show.

I saw a few early episodes of this series but since I'm in the U.S., I didn't keep up with it. However, the reviews for the show are overwhelmingly positive, so I feel confident recommending it.

Lucas North fan video

Here's a nice fan video devoted to MI5's Lucas North. (Warning: there's a mild spoiler at the very end.)

Captain America: Heinz Kruger

If you've seen the trailer (below), you know that Richard plays a villain in the 2011 film Captain America. One thing I didn't know from those clips is that in his initial scenes, his character is pretending to be an American. So fans get to hear him do both American and German accents in this film! I liked his German accent best, but I enjoyed hearing each version of the character.

While Richard's contribution to the movie is short -- he's only in a few scenes -- it's definitely memorable and he does a good job playing a bad guy. He makes the most of his brief screen time with several action sequences, including a gun fight with allied agents, a car chase through the streets of Brooklyn, and an attempted escape on foot. If you're an Armitage fan, this one's worth a rental.

Captain America: The First Avenger
Captain America: The First Avenger

I definitely enjoyed this film, although I admit that I didn't watch it until after I saw The Avengers. That film totally sold me on the character of Steve Rogers (Captain America). I've seen it several times since then and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys superhero films and action movies.

 

The Hobbit: Thorin Oakenshield

As a fan of the Lord of the Rings films, I was thrilled when I read that Richard Armitage had been cast in The Hobbit -- although I was surprised to learn that he was playing a dwarf, given his stature. (He's over six feet tall!) I was even more startled when I saw photos of him in character. I didn't recognize him at first with the beard, wig and makeup -- although in the film, the actor I admire so much definitely comes through.

Armitage plays Thorin Oakenshield, leader of the dwarf expedition (see the video below). While the character is a bit gruff, Richard's portrayal helps make Thorin intriguing and sympathetic.

I can't wait for the final film of the trilogy (in theaters this December)!

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Two-Disc Special Edition)
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Two-Disc Special Edition)

This DVD contains the theatrical version of the film and a handful of extras. An extended cut of the film has been released with additional footage. While I'm not sorry that I ordered this set, I was a bit underwhelmed by the bonus materials, which mainly consist of some behind-the-scenes videos and trailers for the film.

 

In this WSJ interview, Armitage talks about the role of Thorin and shares his youthful experience with The Hobbit and Tolkien. There's also a cut from the film that shows Thorin leading the other dwarves in song -- a scene I particularly like, given my fondness for his voice.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Special Edition) (DVD)
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Special Edition) (DVD)

This is the second film in the series. Many people have said that it's better than the first, though I'm not sure I'd go that far -- I think I still like the original best. While Thorin has some good moments in this film, we also see the darker side of the character coming through, and I'm afraid Thorin will continue to shift in that direction in film three.

 

The 60 second interview

This fun video to promote the Hobbit has star Martin Freeman asking Richard a variety of quick but interesting questions. Some are personal ("Shave your head for a role or put on 20 pounds?") and some tie in to the film ("Do a road trip with a troll or an orc?"). It's a different and entertaining interview -- plus there are some nice clips from the film interspersed with the Hobbit questions.

Is Richard Armitage married?

This is a popular question, probably because Richard Armitage tries to keep his private life private. A few years ago, I'd read something that suggested he was married, but in November 2012, one of his fan sites said definitively that he's not. (I don't know whether he has a girlfriend.)

I hope you've enjoyed this article and learned a few things about British actor Richard Armitage. He's an amazing talent and I can't wait to see what he does in future.

© 2012 C A Chancellor

Discuss Richard Armitage or say hi

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    • KimAnisi profile image

      Kim Snow 4 years ago from United Kingdom

      I actually never heard of him before the Hobbit. But he's certainly doing an excellent job there (saw the movie three times so far, also wrote a review lens here, if you'd like to have a look). I was VERY impressed by his acting because it's not easy to be a dwarf.

    • religions7 profile image

      religions7 4 years ago

      I love him in North and South.

    • flycatcherrr profile image

      flycatcherrr 4 years ago

      Oh, I didn't realize there was a miniseries of North and South! Elizabeth Gaskell's novel is a long-time favourite, and I admire Richard Armitage's acting - can't wait to watch this. Thank you!

    • jamesyd lm profile image

      jamesyd lm 4 years ago

      Wasn't sure about him being cast in The Hobbit - thought it might be out of his depth - but after seeing the film he really impressed me!

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 4 years ago

      I've been watching Robin Hood on Netflix and discovered his acting talents. Didn't even know he is in The Hobbit.

    • takkhisa profile image

      Takkhis 4 years ago

      He is a brilliant actor.

    • LouisaDembul profile image

      LouisaDembul 4 years ago

      Richard Armitage is a great actor.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Richard Armitage's voice seems to have just the right timbre that is is so pleasing to our ear....and excellent fan tribute to an excellent actor who will continue to give us more to love!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      I loved him in Robin Hood and North & South..but I think his absolute most brilliant role to date is as Thorin Oakenshield in The Hobbit! So brilliant..the voice just made it even better! He's such a talented actor, and I can't wait to see his future work!

    • NibsyNell profile image

      NibsyNell 4 years ago

      Loved him in North and South!

    • DoctorOrEngineer profile image

      DoctorOrEngineer 4 years ago

      Matthew Macfadyen and Richard Armitage, the men of MI5. I did describe North and South to a friend and Pride and Prejudice without the humor.

    • profile image

      Vantis 3 years ago

      Nice choice for the Hobbit - Thorin.

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