Monday, March 5, 2012

Period Drama Actor - Alun Armstrong

During Charles Dickens Birthday Week my mind wandered to the several actors and actresses who show up in multiple Dickens film adaptations. One such man is actor Alun Armstrong who has played a wide variety of characters in no less than seven Dickens films to date!

Biography: Born July 17th, 1946, Alun Armstrong was born and raised in County Durham in North East England. His father was a coal miner and both of his parents were Methodist lay preachers. His interest in acting started as a boy when he was in a school play version of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. When he first started attending acting school he felt out of place because of his humble background and Northern accent. He was expelled for skipping classes and took odd jobs for a few years before trying acting again. His first few roles in film and television included supporting roles in films about Northern coal miners, roles he loved because they were part of his history and his accent fit right in! Since his career started in the 1970's Mr. Armstrong has become well known as a character actor in film, TV and theatre.

Alun Armstrong's Charles Dickens Roles:

The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (TV 1982) as Mr. Wackford Squeers & Mr. Wagstaff
I haven't seen this version but I was reading about it. Apparently this is an eight hour stage adaptation that was filmed for TV. Mr. Armstrong took on a couple roles for this adaptation. 

Oliver Twist (TV 1999) as Mr. Flemming
I have seen this adaptation once and it was quite good but did add a bit about Oliver's unfortunate mother to the original story. Mr. Armstrong features in that part of the story and towards the end as a very kind guardian and friend to Oliver.  

David Copperfield (TV 1999) as Daniel Peggotty
Mr. Armstrong was reportedly very excited about this role because he had read David Copperfield aloud at school and through it became a Dickens fan. He even turned down an offer of a film role from well-known actor Clint Eastwood in order to take on the role of Dan Peggotty! 

Oliver Twist (2005) as Magistrate Fang
I haven't seen this film version before but thought it was interesting that Mr. Armstrong has been if two Oliver Twist adaptations, as two very different characters! This film is on my to see list because it also stars actor Ben Kingsley as Fagin which sounds like perfect casting.

Bleak House (TV 2005) as Mr. Bucket
It's hard to decide whether or not to like the policeman Mr. Bucket. He helps solve the mystery in Bleak House and bring the criminals to justice but he has some underhanded ways and likes to bring attention to himself. In the 2005 adaptation Mr. Armstrong's portrayal never fails to make me smile. His interactions with Mr. Smallweed are my favorite and his taking over Mr. Tulkinghorn's office is so interesting. Mr. Armstrong's distinguishing facial features always put me in mind of the phrase "he has a nose for crime"! :) 
Nose for crime!

Little Dorrit (TV 2008) as Jeremiah Flintwinch & Ephraim Flintwinch
Flintwinch is such a scoundrel but Mr. Armstrong plays him to a tea! In this film he also plays Flintwinch's twin brother and those scenes are quite interesting to watch - not one Flintwinch but two!! 

I'm excited to see Mr. Armstrong in this role and expect to like this character a great deal because he's guardian to heroine Rosa Bud. I'm also wondering if he'll be a bit of a detective for the mystery story. 

Other Period Drama Roles:

Black Beauty (1994) as Reuben Smith - I completely forgot about his role in this film. I've seen it a few times but often forget that it's a period story. If I'm remembering correctly this character was was a nice guy. It's a good family film but it has a sadder ending.

Braveheart (1995) as Mornay - I haven't seen this but it's considered a classic now and surprised me that Mr. Armstrong  was in it. Wonder if he dons a Scottish Brogue for the character?

Aristocrats (TV 1999) as Henry Fox - This series shows interesting historical events and Mr. Armstrong's character was an influential politician. I've only seen this series once and can't really recommend it but I did like Mr. Armstrong's character in this.

Onegin (1999) as Zaretsky - An interesting story but not a favorite because of it's sad ending and flawed characters. Mr. Armstrong's character was interesting, he officiated over a duel!

Garrow's Law (TV series 2009-2011) as Mr. Southouse - This TV series about real life historical lawyer  William Garrow has some interesting stories of court cases won and lost. I enjoyed most of the series because of main character actor Andrew Buchan and Mr. Armstrong's great portrayal of Garrow's mentor, but some of the episodes have themes that aren't good.   

Les Misérables (Original 1985 cast) as Thénardier - For all my Les Miz fans out there here's one for your records! In autumn 1985 Alun Armstrong originated the role of Thénardier in the first stage musical of  Les Misérables. This news really surprised me but he does sing and has a nice voice that really suits the character as he sings songs like "Master of the House" and "Dog Eats Dog".  He is reported as being surprised that the musical was so popular because it's similar to an opera made up of all singing but he enjoyed his character who he said was "a gruesome and comic character." Mr. Armstrong left the role after a year because he got bored with the repetition and wanted to do other things but he was honored with an Olivier Award for Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Musical. I still haven't seen Les Miz but I did find a clip of Mr. Armstrong in the role singing Master of the House and which was very clever (some swearing in the song though) and here's a short clip of the scene (without swearing) if you're interested.

Alun Armstrong with son Joe
Random Facts About Alun Armstrong:
-Had jobs as a bricklayer and a gravedigger before settling down to acting.

-He and his wife Sue have three sons: Tom, Joe and Dan

-Mr. Armstrong has been awarded two honorary doctorate degrees in recognition of his contributions to the arts.

-His middle son Joe Armstrong is an actor too best known for his role as Allan A Dale in the Robin Hood TV series (yay! he's a favorite character of mine!). It's also interesting that Joe played a character with the same name as his dad! (my sister and I still call Joe "Allan", kinda confusing!) :D

-Appeared alongside his son Joe in a TV show called Between the Sheets and they will appear as father / son characters in a new filming of Shakespeare's Henry IV.

-He and his son Joe played younger and older versions of the same character in a 1950's era TV movie A Passionate Woman. (I thought this was especially neat because they look so much alike!) 

-He's played "the full spectrum of characters from the grotesque to musicals... I always play very colourful characters, often a bit crazy, despotic, psychotic."

-About David Copperfield: "We did David Copperfield in school. We read it around the class, everyone taking a paragraph. Whenever I think of Dickens, the thing I remember most is the boat on the beach. I wanted to do this part and I did in fact turn down Clint to do it. I said to him, 'The thing is, I've got the opportunity of doing a Dickens.' And he said, 'Oh, you must do it.'"

For more info about Alun Armstrong check out his IMDb pageWikipedia page and

It's always so delightful to see Mr. Armstrong turn up in a period drama, and no Charles Dickens adaptation is quite the same without him! :)
I hope to see him in many other period dramas, in particular I'd love it if this former gravedigger would take on the role of Jerry Cruncher in a new adaptation of A Tale Of Two Cities! haha 

Which Alun Armstrong roles have you seen? 
Which of his roles is your favorite?


Michaela said...

He is the greatest, most legendary Thenardier of all time. Period. B-)

Miss Laurie of Old-Fashioned Charm said...

I wondered if this might get a comment from you! Glad to hear that Mr. Armstrong's Thenardier is still considered the best! :)

Jemimah said...

I saw Alun Armstrong in Black Beauty, and yes, from memory he was a lovely character (for most of the movie).
It looks like he's a rather popular actor!

Diana said...

What a fascinating post! I had no idea Armstrong was the original Thenardier. I've seen him in David Copperfield, Little Dorrit and Bleak House, his performance in BH probably being my favourite.

Mal said...

That's so cool that he's Joe's dad! I didn't know that! I love Allan in Robin Hood :)
-mal :)

Chris said...

Bizarre to post three years later, but he's just shown up in Frontier on Netflix. Tremendous and plays a very much 'colourful character, often a bit crazy, despotic, psychotic.'


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