Once Upon a Time’s Rumplestiltskin and his alter ego Mr. Gold are nothing if not complicated. This week’s “Skin Deep” episode further deepened this dual role played with such grace by Robert Carlyle. Casting him as Beauty’s Beast allowed us in to Rumple’s heart and the his yearning for love—even after he rejects it, sending Belle from his home, only to learn that she had been shunned and ultimately killed herself because of her association with him.
It’s a burden he carries even into modern-day Storybrooke, where he remembers and keenly feels this tragic episode in his life. It’s a completely romantic portrait, full of tragedy and pain. Sigh. Carlyle is simply brilliant showing Rumple’s anguish, even through those nearly-opaque contact lenses he must wear as Rumple. It’s a performance that’s both heartbreaking and powerful (double sigh).
Of course Mr. Carlyle is most known, I suppose, for his portraits of psychotics and other tough guys. Trainspotting, Cracker, Face, Ravenous, Hitler: The Origins of Evil, to name but a few. Even his Stargate Universe character of Dr. Nicholas Rush is more often manipulative and conniving than heroic—or romantic.
Carlyle is legendary for taking his roles very seriously, and with a few exceptions has chosen his roles with care and purpose, often with an eye to their political or social messages. But tomorrow is, after all, Valentine’s Day, so perhaps a little fluff is in order. And it is in that spirit, I want to recommend a few of Mr. Carlyle’s more romantic film and television projects (in chronological order). Happy viewing!
Hamish Macbeth – As the title character, a laid-back hashish-smoking village constable, Carlyle couldn’t be further from his psychotic Begbie (Trainspotting). Made in the mid-‘90s, Hamish Macbeth is a comedy-drama series that ran for three seasons on the BBC.
Hamish’s love life is a total mess, and he is entangled with two women—one out of love, and the other out of obligation to a past relationship. But when he finally breaks it off with one of the women, it leads to tragedy. Of course you must watch the entire series run of 20 episodes at some point, but to tickle your romantic nature, watch first and final episodes of Series 1, then skip to “Radio Lochdubh” and it’s sequel “No Man is an Island” in Series 2. Finish off with the two-part finale “Destiny.”
Go Now – This 1995 film is virtually impossible to find (and is not available on DVD at all). But it can be found on the Internet if you are savvy enough to know where to look. (Of course, I’m not one to recommend Torrent searches, if you catch my drift…) This is one of the most overtly romantic films of Carlyle’s early career. He plays a young man who suddenly finds himself confronted with multiple sclerosis. Carlyle is amazing in the film, which is essentially a love story. It will leave you sobbing in parts and hot and bothered in others (yes there are several love scenes). If you can find it, Go Now is a tour de force performance and a gorgeous love story.
Carla’s Song – Ken Loach’s very political 1996 film is also a beautifully rendered, old-fashioned love story that has Glasgow bus driver George (Carlyle) pursuing a young, deeply troubled Nicaraguan dancer across the globe and into the hell of a civil war. The most difficult thing about watching this movie is the language. The Spanish spoken for long passages in the second half of the film is not subtitled (I’m guessing to give the viewer the same experience as George, who does not speak the language). Carlyle’s Glaswegian dialect, particularly at the very beginning of the film is also difficult for American ears to decipher, but it gets much easier to understand after the first 20 minutes or so. Even without understanding every word, it’s easy enough to get the gist of the movie through the acting of the two leads.
Face – I had a hard time deciding whether to include Antonia Bird’s little 1997 crime drama in my Valentine’s Day list, but I decided to include it because it is fundamentally a story driven by love and redemption. Carlyle plays Ray, a former political activist-turned armed robber. He’s come to a place in his life at 35, when this life of crime is beginning to weigh on him, and his girlfriend Connie (Lena Headey, Game of Thrones’ evil Cersei—talk about your evil queens!) is fed up with his profession. Ultimately it is her love (and a big wake-up call) that redeems Ray. Great ‘90s soundtrack as well!
Marylin Hotchkiss Ballroom Dance and Charm School – This 2005 independent film is a slightly surreal fairy tale all on its own. A story of loss, random chance and the possibilities of new-found love, Marylin Hotchkiss is an unabashedly romantic fable. Carlyle plays Frank Keane, a bread baker in mourning for his wife Rita, a victim of suicide. As Frank tells a stranger whose serious car accident he witnesses, he is “drifting in an endless ocean” of loss and loneliness. But this chance encounter with the accident victim leads Frank to a dance class, where he meets Meredith (Marisa Tomei) and finally finds his way back on the path towards living again. It’s a sweet and charming movie, and Carlyle is wonderful as the gentle, grief-stricken Frank.
Mighty Celt – Also released in 2005, Might Celt is a boy-and-his-dog story at its heart, but underlying the film is the love story between “O,” a former IRA fighter, returning after 10 years in exile to Belfast and his former significant other Kate (Gillian Anderson). Reunited after years, the two reticent former lovers slowly, slowly the two find a way past the pain of the war and estrangement.
Stargate Universe – There are 40 episodes of SGU, which aired from 2009 to 2011 on Syfy. The series starred Carlyle as the conniving, secretive genius scientist Dr. Nicholas Rush. Although the role is not what you would even vaguely consider romantic (at least not in the “love story” meaning of romantic), we learn that Rush had been married, his wife Gloria dying of cancer, leaving him bereft and bitter. We also witness Rush begin to love again, forming a bond with another scientist, who, like Gloria, is tragically taken from him. So, if your tastes run sci-fi, I will suggest to you several Stargate Universe episodes that delve into Rush’s brittle heart.
I would, however, first watch the first couple of episodes to get a flavor for the series and its complex technology and rivalries. Then jump to “Human,” which examines the last days of Rush’s marriage to Gloria and “Sabotage,” that begins to explore Rush’s relationship with earthbound paraplegic scientist Amanda Perry. Then skip ahead to season two and “The Greater Good,” “Malice” and “Seizure” to get a more complete picture of the romantic side of Dr. Nicholas Rush. And then go back and watch the entire series run from the start!
So, there you have it. Lots to watch between now and next Sunday night’s Once Upon a Time. Let me know your favorites in the comments thread.