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Soames Forsyte. The Man you Love to Hate

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I’ve been meaning to write about The Forsyte Saga since the night I was up 10 hours straight till 6am watching it, but with all the build up I hardly think I can do it justice.

I saw the series floating around as recommendation to any North and South or Pride and Prejudice lover for some time, but I’ve aways found the word ‘saga’ a bit off-putting.

Nevermind, the gods of costume drama rolled the dice and deemed this summer the appropriate time to initiate me into the complex world of the Forsyte family.

And believe me, drama is the operative word proving that it’s always the most respectable families that have the most to hide.

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The Forsyte Saga consists of eight episodes and then the story is continued in four episodes of The Forsyte Saga: To Let.

For anyone who’s interested in checking it out, you can watch the episodes on YT or read John Galsworthy’s book (free ebook link in sidebar).

Here is the first episode:

There’s just so much I want to say on this story and I’ll start with stating my disappointment that it hasn’t amassed a N&S type following.

There’s the odd post, article, one or two fanfics and I doubt this post will change things, but I’ll give it a try🙂

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Although the 2002 television series introduces a plethora of rich characters, today I will be focusing on the one that Blew. Me. Away!

Soames Forsyte, played by the dashing and ever so strangely sexy Damian Lewis, is an incredibly complex character.

On face value he’s the one you love to hate, a despicable possessive man with few redeeming qualities.

Enter Damian Lewis.

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Don’t get me wrong, Soames is still morally corrupt and his actions throughout the series are questionable at best, but Lewis manages to instil in him an element that somehow evokes our pity.

Watching Lewis piece together this character makes for fascinating viewing and just proves British actor’s superior skills.

It’s the minute details that make Soames come alive and become three-dimensional.

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We watch, episode after episode, as Soames’ carefully crafted persona, so highly regarded among his family and in society, unravels exposing a man who is riddled by insecurity and unable to upkeep the perfect picture he has created in his head.

His love for Irene (pronounced Irenee, which, as Servetus explains, is from the Greek pronunciation Ee-ray-nay), the woman he falls for and woos relentlessly, epitomises the notion that:

“It is better to love someone who loves you more”.

Despite there being little attraction on her part, Soames pursues her, blinded by his desire to possess her as yet another beautiful object in his collection.

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It’s important to note that in this feminist age, Irene’s behaviour reads as passive at best.

She allows for events to happen to her rather than take charge of her own destiny, but she also possesses a skill that make men fall madly, deeply, truly head over heels with her and, some may say, she taken advantage of that.

I just see her as a Helen of Troy type, one that subconsciously hurts those who love her most and create turmoil around her.

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The Forsyte Saga is a story of a love triangle or, at times, a love rectangle, but in my opinion what is at the heart of this tale is  Soames and Irene who are engaged in a duel, a life-long battle that merely features, and inevitably wounds, innocent bystanders.

Although they have so little in common with one another, they perform a complex tango and their actions bind them together in an awkward and, at times, disturbing manner.

This really is a guide in “What Not to Do in a Marriage”.

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This is a tale of the consequences of bad decisions, but also about how we tend to dig deeper into the black hole our actions have created, and how little we are able to learn from our errors.

When watching Lewis’ character it is evident that Soames is destined to repeat all the bad mistakes , learning very little from them.

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It’s this inability to draw conclusions from past events that is one of his downfalls, but there’s an evident loneliness and a need to stifle the object of his love that makes this character so raw and painful to watch.

Time and time again I’d find myself embarrassed by his actions and literally shouting at the screen.

Shame he never read “Wooing for Dummies” because never was there someone so desperately in need of guidance!

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I want to leave Soames’ and Irene’s relationship for another post when I’ll be comparing them to some other characters you may have heard of, but I hope I’ve intrigued you enough to check the saga out.

Although I’ve focused on what I believe to be the central theme of the series, there are plenty more delicious plots offering endless entertainment.

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Irene isn’t the only woman who is entangled in a stormy and difficult relationship with Soames.

Although he is regarded as a respectable, sensible man, and his family relies on his knowledge and expertise, he find communicating with women a tad testing.

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The dynamic between him and his cousin’s daughter June is worthy of its own post.

If Irene’s passive behaviour makes your blood boil, you will find June in juxtaposition as she’s one feisty lady!

She’s one of the few people who stand up to Soames and proves to be shoulder for Irene to cry on, although with the way the story evolve, I bet she’d wished she hadn’t.

In many regards June is the voice of reason and truth, and her character undergoes the most  significant growth throughout the saga.

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These are just a few scattered thought on a series that I found incredibly thought-provoking and I hope to return to some of the themes in subsequent posts🙂

All of the caps come from Firthgirl’s picspam of the series and let me tell you, I was crying with laughter reading her interpretation, so check it out: Picspam 1, Picspam 2, Picspam 3, Picspam 4

About AgzyM

"I have measured out my life with coffee spoons". A fangirl through and through, anglophile, and admirer of beauty whereever I can find it. I love books and art, and spend too much time admiring Richard Armitage and other amazing British actors.

37 responses »

  1. I read the book many years ago and loved it. And thank you for the link Agzy because I think I’m going to enjoy this serie. Aaah ces Anglais !!!!

    Reply
    • YAY! I really hope you do! I liked the book, but read it after watching the series, so I already had the characters in my head. Soames is so much better portrayed in the series. I thought he was quite flat in the book and Lewis added on another layer to the character.

      Reply
  2. I’ve seen it suggested in Netflix but haven’t watched it yet~
    I’m currently re-watching Monarch of the Glen. I think I’ll give it a try and watch it🙂 I like time period dramas~ I love seeing the clothing they used to wear.

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    • Me too🙂 One of the best things about going to a fashion design school was learning about the history of costume. I’d have to write papers on costumes that appeared in films like Troy or BBC Pride and Prejudice. You’d sit watching TV and feel like you’re contributing to your education LOL!
      BTW, when you watch the series note the red dress Irene is wearing during the ball. It’s actually a version of the dress worn by Madame X in John Singer Sargent’s controversial painting.
      You can read more about the painting here:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portrait_of_Madame_X

      Reply
      • I’ve watched and read many things related to the story I’m writing and I’ve learned many things but the other day, I realised that while I know much of history I know very little of what is happening in the present…
        I’ll read more into the painting when I’m on the pc~
        I saw the painting and I think it beautiful~ I don’t understand why it was controversial at the time?

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        • It the straps were off her shoulders an it was deemed provocative. In light of the last VMA’s I know it’s laughable, but there was a time that milky nude shoulders were seen as overly sexual. I always think how we interpret a painting like that comments on how dirty our mind is, so I guess society at that time were a raunchy bunch.
          BTW, ditto on current events, I’m ashamed to say.

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          • Ah~! Yes, the dress code during that era was more modest than what it is today~ I understand now why it caused such a fuss among the society.
            Are you referring to the spectacle Ms Cyrus made? If I were her mother I would be so embarrassed with her behaviour…
            I avoid watching the news. Always sad and bad news. I hear what happens in my country and it’s shocking…

          • Can I ask what country you come from? The news is terrible, but I have to admit that I am terribly ignorant about the horrors of what’s out there, but then wouldn’t you stick your head in a gas oven if you let all that horridness wash over you…
            I think we’ve gotten to a point with fashion that little shocks us. Look at Cyrus. The nude bikini, sticking her arse in a man’s crotch, rubbing against dancers. Yawn! It’s been done, and MUCH better!

          • I was born and raised Mexico City. I sometimes watch the news from there and hear the horrors people are going through there… Everyday people go missing and they find their bodies months later.
            Yes, it sometimes makes me lose all hope for humanity and stick my head in the oven.
            I think what caused the controversy is that a few years ago she was still working for Disney. Her behaviour and style changed so drastically that it was surprising for many. I never was an admirer of her nor any of Disney’s shows or the like.
            But you’re right, it has been done before and much better~

          • I’ve watched a lot of documentaries on the Mexican US boarder because I’m getting my MA in American culture. It’s heart-breaking and reminiscent of what things were like with the iron curtain separating Europe.
            I was thinking recently how I use this blog, fandom, tumblr et as a way to escape the outside world. There’s nothing wrong with that. I could sit down and watch the news all day, but a part of me needs to focus on the good in life like art or products of pop culture. That’s where I find my balance and I’m not going to apologise for it😉
            Having said that the notion of women and sexuality in the Victorian times creeps me out. It’s so evident in “Crimson Petal ad White” (book and TV series) when a woman has no idea what’s happening during her wedding night, 9 months later doesn’t even realise she’s having baby and then they keep the child from her because she’s so unhinged and disturbed. That must be terrifying to not get a basic education on how the body functions. We may be slutty in this day and age, but at least women understand sexuality that little bit better, even if they abuse it like poor misguided Miley.

          • It’s a tough and hostile situation what is happening right now. But hopefully things will get better~
            And you never should have to apologise for that, dear~ I too try to escape reality sometimes with writing, painting, social networks and most recently here~ it’s good to get away once in a while from things.
            That’s true~ but unfortunately there are still many young women who don’t take care of themselves and 9 months later they are having a child with no idea of how they are going to support him/her.

  3. Still haven’t found time to watch it, but will be reading your posts with interest!

    Reply
    • It’s not without its faults and they couldn’t avoid the dreaded aging of actors by adding moustaches, goatees and dodgy liver spots. But it’s packed with emotions and I find myself thinking of the characters, not to mention driving everyone crazy by singing “life is a dance we must learn”. If life truly is a dance then mine must be a polka… OK, that was bad😉

      Reply
  4. OMG!!! A few weeks ago, after reading your blog, I think, I decided to watch the Forsyte Saga; which I’d been ignoring on my Netflix queue. I was sucked in from the very first episode and spent the night watching the whole series! I was a zombie for days! Don’t even know how I was able to function the rest of the week after watching it! Still it was well worth it!

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    • Gosh, what an endorsement!

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      • LOL!!! Richard Armitage he is not, but Damian Lewis can hold his own on this series. 😉

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        • Well, he’s a bloody good actor in his own right, but what surprised me most is that despite being sooooo not my type, I find him very sexy (and let’s forget for a moment those terrible things Soames does). I know a woman who’s “type” is pale and ginger and she had been giving me Lewis as an example of a beautifully created man, while I’ve been throwing Richard right back at her. Lewis intrigues me and I couldn’t help moving on to “Homeland” afterwards, despite the series not being my cup of tea at all. I’m not sure what else of his I should check out.

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          • Lewis didn’t have the same effect on me as Richard does. He can act though, so to be fair I should probably check out his other work…. I think I’ll start with Keane.

          • I introduced my sister to Homeland last night. She really got hook (duh!), but she kept on commenting how Lewis does absolutely nothing for her. That’s the thing with quirky looking people like Lewis or Cumberbatch. It’s very one way or another. BTW, I started watching Keane, but it just wasn’t the day for it, so switched it off after a few minutes. I wouldn’t mind seeing something where he has British accent, so I’ll have to go dig a bit deeper.

      • “Turns people into zombies” is the best endorsement ever😉

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    • I have to say I’m a little relieved I’m not the only one then… I actually shocked my dogs by getting THEM up at 5am for breakfast for a change😉 Which character/plot captured your heart?

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      • Of course I was rooting for Irene the whole time but the character/plot that most grabbed me was the relationship between Jolyon Sr and Jolyon Jr and the way they worked past their issues to become a family unit apart from all the Forsyte family drama. They are the most sensible of the Forsyte men. I also enjoyed watching June’s transformation and growth; though it didn’t seem fair that she didn’t find the love she always yearned for. I should read the book to get the whole story…

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        • See, I felt for Irene too and although there were moments when she needed shaking, I didn’t get negative vibes from her. I was so surprised when people commented that they couldn’t stand her. Part of it was the actress and how she didn’t look anything like Irene from the book and wasn’t a “beauty”. I agree that both the Jolyons were amazing, but notice that they become more lovable with age. They become more understanding and open to people and I thought that was beautiful, they way they allowed people to live their lives the way they wanted. BTW, the book expands on the oldest generation of the Forsyte siblings and we learn a bit about their humble roots. I got a better understanding of how the family rose to power despite not being part of the aristocracy and why Fleur marrying an aristocrat was such a big deal.

          Reply
  5. I’ll keep this title in mind… Your recommendations are always wonderful!!😉

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    • Thanks so much Luciana, I’m always worried someone may think my recs are pants and be disappointed😉 I do get overly enthusiastic about things that appeal to me, and I really believe there’s enough juice plots here to satisfy all different people.

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      • Well, it might happen, but, until now your recommendations have never disappointed me!!!😀

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        • That’s lovely of you to say! I’ve had a whole summer of watching and reading, but very little blogging, so I guess I’ll just keep the recs coming.

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          • Yes!!!! Don’t stop posting your recommendations here!!!😉

          • I won’t. It’s good to be back to posting and catching up with stuff here online. It’s like stretching my creative legs a bit and wasting hours upon hours on things that serve to amuse me and, hopefully others a tad😉

  6. Pingback: Richard Armitage Legend 94: Stuff worth reading | Me + Richard Armitage

  7. Tak widziałam ten serial i jak zwykle nie zawiodłam się;) Rzeczywiście Damian jest świetnym aktorem tak jak kilku innych aktorów i aktorek tej serii. Co Ci Angole w sobie maja, że pomimo “oryginalnej”(kłopotliwej ) urody robią takie wrażenie?….chyba wiem co powiesz🙂

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    • LOl, faktycznie kłopotliwa I wymagająca przyzwyczajenia się. Dla mnie to chyba o talent chodzi. Widzisz jaka nie jestem wcale a wcale płytka😉

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  8. I watched The Forsyte Saga on the TV when it first came out in 2002. By some quirk of programming, Australian TV was showing TFS on one night and Band of Brothers ( also starring DL) the next. No one could work out whether DL was British or American because he was equally convincing in both roles. It would be interesting to hear some of our stateside contributors views on his accent although I suspect it is good because I seem to recall people at the Emmy’s being shocked by his British accent.

    I also have a big crush on DL, despite him not really being my type. Not anything on the scale of RA but I wouldn’t throw him out of bed! There is just something very charismatic about him and i think he is an excellent actor. He’s married to Helen McCrory, a very talented and intellingent actor, and I think I like him even more for that bit of good taste.

    As for Soames… An elderly friend who remembered the original TV series (made in the 1960’s?) said that Soames was so evil people would sit in their living rooms booing and hissing every time he came on screen. He was the archetypal villain apparently. DL’s Soames was much more rounded and although he did some dispicable things, my overwhelming feeling was sorrow for him. I hated myself for thinking it ( and worked in a quite feminist workplace where others also admitted to shock over their feelings) but I couldn’t help thinking that all Soames needed was to be loved. Shudder!

    I can’t say I cared for Irene and that was, for me, the weak point of the series. Intellectually I knew that a woman in Irene’s position had absolutely no power but I still wanted to shake her at times! Never mind booing and hissing, I was screaming “make an effort, woman!” at her as she cringed from Soames’ touch. I wanted to feel empathic towards her but I just couldn’t.

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    • I’m so not done with The Forsyte Saga and I’ve collected my thoughts in another post, out today. I’m just not ready to lay Soames and Irene’s relationship to rest🙂
      Lewis has added a human layer to Soames, who is quite flat in the book and loathsome in the 60s series (from what I’ve seen so far). It takes great talent to make a viewer sympathise with a character who does despicable things. We feel for Soames, for his misguided decisions and his impulsive nature.
      I’ve dubbed his wife Irene Frostbite instead of Forsyte because she really isn’t shown making any effort in the marriage. I really believe that Soames has the potential to learn. Educated, even manipulated by a strong woman, he could be a good husband, companion and lover. It must be terrible to feel lonely in a marriage and it only escalated his impulsive behaviour. It was heartbreaking to see Soames interact with Irene’s belongings, like being close to her ball gown was the only warmth the ghost-like Irene could offer.
      So yes, Damian Lewis turned an obvious baddie into a character that you so strongly disapprove of, but can’t help feeling sorry for.

      Reply
  9. Pingback: John Thornton and Soames Forsyte. The Women They Love. | I Want to be a Pin Up

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