THE DARKER SIDE OF PERIOD DRAMA
Saturday 16 November 1996
That is certainly an image he has had to live with since languidly strolling into the public consciousness as Freddy Honeychurch in A Room with a View. "If I was called Wayne Graves, I'd never have got that part," he reckons. "There's a certain snobbery in British film- making." He's subsequently appeared in so many period dramas, he could almost have been sponsored by Laura Ashley.
The idea of an actor most at home in sideburns and stiff collars will not be dislodged by his latest role. He plays the aristocratic alcoholic, Arthur Huntington, violent husband of the long-suffering Helen (Tara Fitzgerald), in the BBC's new three-part adaptation of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte.
Dressed in a leather flying-jacket when we meet, Graves has the timeless good looks of a First World War fighter pilot. This has led him to be bracketed with Hugh Grant as what one newspaper called "thinking woman's crumpet on toast", but he is dismissive of the sex symbol tag. "What does that mean?" he asks. "I've seen so much rubbish written about me that there's no point in taking it seriously."
But there is much more to this thirty-something actor than an ability to look dashing in riding boots and tight breeches. He made a convincing job of David Martin - violent bank robber by day, sensuous transvestite by night - in ITV's Open Fire and is soon to be seen as a man falling for a transsexual in a contemporary BBC drama called Different for Girls.
Graves remains well aware of the dangers of white-linen-suit typecasting. "I always have that debate when I'm offered a period drama," he maintains. "I think, `Oh no, not another fey public school boy'. But deep down, I know I'm not like that. I went to a crappy comprehensive in Weston-Super-Mare."
He voices his wariness about cut-glass acting. "There can be too much linen and old leaves in English acting." But Graves contends that drama set in previous eras can still have a resonance across the centuries. "If they trade on whimsy, then the charge of irrelevance can be made," he observes. "But period dramas like The Tenant of Wildfell Hall are relevant if you choose to look for the human themes. The Tenant is quite primal; male weaknesses are fighting against female strengths. It makes for a good battle, which they take out on their child. That's a human story."
With its harrowing account of marital abuse, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is a story that could have been ripped from today's headlines. James Purefoy, who plays Helen's landlord, asserts: "It's so modern. The problem of alcoholism and the home-breaking, and the violence that it causes, are as relevant today as they were then. The sort of abuse that Anne Bronte shocked everyone with was happening at the time and is still happening now."
It is all far-removed from the bonnets and bonhomie of Pride and Prejudice. "We wanted to make The Tenant of Wildfell Hall a compelling story about real people who happen to live in the 1840s," explains Suzan Harrison, the producer. "The characters don't hide behind period masks. There are no wigs, they wear very little make-up, and their clothes actually get dirty. I am very keen that people realise that this is not another Pride and Prejudice. It's a much bleaker, blacker, more real piece."
And Graves, for one, feels a lot more comfortable in a smudged linen suit.
`The Tenant of Wildfell Hall' starts on BBC1 at 8.30pm tomorrow night
The video, audio cassette and paperback are all released this month
Brass Eye (Tue C4) Switchboard- jamming mischief-making from Chris Morris, the frontman of "The Day Today".
The Works (Thur BBC2) Pays tribute to the heroic journalist, Vernica Guerin.
Women at Play (Thur C4) Girls in pearls have muddy fun in the Harlequins Ladies Rugby team.
New Baywatch (Sat ITV) Meet the "New Baywatch", same as the old.
Jim Davidson's Generation Game (Sat BBC1) Doesn't Jim Davidson make you yearn for Brucie?
Ruby Wax Meets the Duchess of York (Sun BBC1) Does the hapless Fergie really need any more exposure?
SHOWS MAD FOR COWS
Horizon (Sun & Mon BBC2) Looking back over 10 years of BSE in Britain.
Vets' School (Mon BBC1) Student vet, Steve Leonard, drives to job interviews in a black-and-white "cow car".
Modern Times (Wed BBC2) "A Pleasant Land" examines the catastrophic effect on farmers of BSE.
Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Stuart Baggs dies: Apprentice star 'The Brand' found dead aged 27
- 2 Amazon Prime - how to cancel: after Top Gear hiring, instructions on how to leave premium service
- 3 Jeremy Clarkson’s Amazon Prime deal to reunite Top Gear trio thumbs nose at the BBC
- 4 Every club should be like Labour – you can’t join as a new member unless you’re already a member
- 5 1000 people played Foo Fighters simultaneously to try and get them to play their city
Frank Ocean, where's that new album at?
Black Mass full trailer: Watch an unrecognisable Johnny Depp play notorious US gangster James 'Whitey' Bulger
Top Gear trio Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May heading to Amazon Prime for new car show
Benedict Cumberbatch has 1,480 lines in Hamlet - so what's the secret to actors' memory skills?
Top Gear: Jenson Button reportedly joining Chris Evans as replacement host
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn – or a return to a Labour government
Labour leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn says 'we can learn a great deal from Karl Marx'
Is Britain really full up? Are migrants taking our jobs? Leading academic answers the most common anti-immigration claims
Public anger after French sunbather beaten up by gang for wearing a bikini in Reims park
Labour leadership: New poll shows party is now even 'less electable' than under Ed Miliband
While we fixate on Calais, the Home Office is quietly deporting dozens of migrants on 'ghost flights'