Saturday, February 4, 2012

James Callis on Midsomer Murders, part 2: OMG Squeee!

I'm trying to be calm about this, but honestly now. James plays two completely different guys, manages to make them really different, AND be adorable in the process. This was brilliant.

Toby's sweet and bumbling. (The tongue!!) He gets along with everyone and tries to do well, but ends up making a lot of mistakes. It's implied that he isn't very smart, but I'm not so sure.

Julian is arrogant and pretty awful. He's cold to pretty much everyone, family included, but seems to have a way with the ladies (which we sadly don't get to see).

But it's not all so simple as good/evil twin. I'm wondering how to discuss the episode without spoiling too much. I think I'll make a general post here, on the themes etc, and then continue on LiveJournal, behind an LJ cut, so you can read if you've seen it/want to be spoiled. I don't know how to spoiler cut on Blogspot. It is a whodunit, so there's a big reveal at the end. A brief countdown of the basic plot: the family's uncle Ben dies oddly, and Toby sees a headless rider riding away. Other mysterious murders appear, always preceded by the headless driver pointing at the person. Is it supernatural? If not, whodunit?!

The LJ post is here.

The appearance diferences are done with pretty traditional, minimal ways: slick-back hair for Julian and adorably flowy for Toby; Toby has glasses but Julian doesn't (maybe he wears contacts?). James does a lot with his voice: Julian gets the gruffier "bad guy" voice - not as gruffy as Haman or Merlin, but not quite his natural voice. Toby gets the "gentle" voice, high-pitched and quiet. His mannerisms are more awkward and shy, while Julian walks around like he owns the whole country. Later we find out that Julian used to bully Toby as a child, and there's quite some anger in Toby over that. I thought that was a nice touch. In fact, one might say Julian is still bullying Toby - ordering him around, rolling his eyes at everything Toby says, and so forth.

I do think it's possible that Toby is a little simple while Julian is not; Toby could have had a lack of oxygen in his brain in the birth, or something similar, that lead to mental retardation. I know the "completely different identical twins" thing can be an annoying trope, but it can also really happen. I had identical twins in my class growing up, and they were different. Hanna was more serious and less outgoing, while Maija always had a smile on her face. The lines of their faces were different, even as children. I think James is doing this pretty well, even if one might ask if they would be the exact same at age 40 - would they have different lines on their faces, would one be thinner than the other, etc.? But it's TV, it doesn't have to be 100 % accurate, and I think they did as much as they could here. Awesome acting either way.

There are a couple of scenes with both together, but mostly they get around it by having one brother's back to the camera, like here:

..and indeed you can barely even see Toby there, as Simon is covering him. I wonder if it was really obvious that was a stunt double.

Here, they manage it with a perspective view. It's not very noticeable in the episode, but I think you can tell more clearly in the snapshot that they were filmed at different times.

Julian is a ladies man who has many children around town, but none with his wife Diana. She's a very lonely character, trapped in a loveless marriage, living with a hateful mother-in-law. There's a brief scene between her and Julian that implies there is something warm between them, but this isn't fleshed out too far. I felt quite sorry for Diana, even if she can be as cool as Julian.

Toby's wife Betty is a different story. She's a very domineering personality who practically runs the house, and even the mother-in-law Lady Isobel has to agree to her will sometimes. Betty's looks are, in Lady Isobel's view, not up to scratch, and she taunts Betty with quips like "oh look, it's Ugly Betty." I was slightly uncomfortable when I first saw that Toby has the "plain" wife - TV plain that is, a chubby and pretty woman, so "fat and ugly" because she isn't skinny and gorgeous. I was worried they might imply that Toby couldn't do better than Betty, who's smart and kind but not beautiful, or that Betty couldn't do better than Toby, who is handsome and kind but not smart. I was relieved to find that they do love each other and Toby is in fact quite worried about losing her. Oftentimes the "plain" wife is cheated on or discarded for someone much hotter. I should keep in mind that it's a British show where sometimes, average-looking people can find love and happiness. I can't help always identifying with the chubbier characters, so it felt kinda cathartic to see James be totally tender with her. There were no sex scenes, but they were warm and close.

awwww <3 <3 <3 <3

Toby also has a son from a previous marriage, Simon. This is pretty brilliant casting, as this boy could be James' son. His name is.. James Clay? Wow, that's awfully close to James Callis too. I felt slightly incredulous at first because James' own children are aged 8 to 2, but yes, he could have a son who's now 21, provided that he started pretty young.

Simon is mute due to emotional trauma: he saw his mother die in a horse-riding accident. Toby is sweet and protective of his son, but Julian dismisses him as a "moron". Simon seems like a kind and helpful soul, like his father.

Interestingly, when Julian calls Simon "moron", Toby says "don't call him that!" But when Julian counters with, "What else am I supposed to call him?" (obvious answer: SIMON), Toby is quiet and just feebly stares at him. That says so much about their dynamic as brothers.

Another example of this behavior: when Toby's mother tells Betty to lose weight, Toby doesn't say a word, but is obviously deeply embarrassed and upset by his mother's behavior:

It's not that he agrees with his mother; his status in the family is just so low that he can't speak up. Apart from a murder mystery, this is a depiction of a loveless, inbred British upper class family.

Both Julian's arrogance and Toby's bumbling insecurity remind me of Baltar in some ways, but I got a total Gabriel McDow flashback (forward?) from Toby. He's not autistic, and the mannerisms aren't exactly the same, but James employs some of the same body language (head tilt?) and voice style here. Maybe there's something slightly childlike about Toby, as there is about Gabriel. Julian oddly reminds me of Grant. Maybe they have the same gruffish voice, or maybe it's the hair..?

However, these roles are not really like anything he's done before. Every time you see him in a new show, it's like meeting him for the first time - hello, who are you? You look like someone I know, yet not. It makes me feel awe, like he (and the director and costume people, etc.) can make a new person out of nothing. I know it's James, but it doesn't sound or act or even walk like him. I wish he got a long-standing role again, but on the other hand, this fresh encounter every time is exciting. He does different roles so well, and I'm proud of him.

There are some new visual aspects of James here, but I can't show them without spoiling. Well, here's a non-spoilery one: James driving a horse and buggy!

Nice hat! The show is set in modern times, but their manor offers "old-timey experiences" of some sort, and the buggy driver is one of them. (Julian gives a rather bumpy ride and is nonchalant with he customers.)

And: James with a big dog! The dog is rather stronger than him, it might appear. (it could be acting or maybe not.) Very cute either way!

Oh, and from the civil war re-enactment:

He's no in soldier garb sadly, but the civil war thing gave some nice visuals. I didn't really get this part because apparently I don't know English history well enough, but there's a bet for the winner, and they lose some piece of land if they don't win. (Upper class problems.)

All in all: highly recommended. The ep is one and a half hours, and James has a lot of screen time. And is oh so handsome. *sigh* Awww, Toby. <3