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The Plain One

Your Humble Blogger has mentioned the Pride and Prejudice problem before. I put it like this:

The adaptation also had what I call the Pride and Prejudice problem, where there is a Main Character who is the Plain One, and a supporting character who is the Pretty One. In a film or television adaptation, there is simply no way that the actress playing the main character is going to be plain, and it is quite unusual for everyone to allow the supporting character to be substantially better-looking than the main character. Generally, what you wind up with is a pair of women either of whom would turn heads on a sidewalk; any plot point that depends on the Plain One languishing un-noticed in a corner whilst all the men pay their attentions to the Pretty One have to rely on the viewer’s acceptance of the convention.

For men, it recently occurred to me, this is much less of an issue. For one thing, the main character is the good-looking one; the fat, slovenly wise-cracking guy is the supporting role, and everybody is OK with that. For another, when the fat, slovenly, wise-cracking guy is the lead, in say for instance a comedy, and the joke is the contrast with the handsome but stupid supporting actor, well, then you get a supporting actor who is handsome, and the lead is Oliver Platt or Zach Galifianakis or Chris Farley, who actually do lack conventional good looks. And then—the range of conventional good looks is so much wider for men, isn’t it? Was Humphrey Bogart the plain one, or was Edward G Robinson the plain one? Was Mickey Rooney the good-looking one? If you need the lead actor to be the Plain One and also very attractive indeed, you get—Harrison Ford? Alan Rickman? Gary Oldman? Steve Buscemi? John Wayne? You have a lot of choices, is what I am saying, and besides, Robert Downey, Junior isn’t going to kick up as much of a fuss if the good-looking one is, in fact, better-looking than he is. Even better-looking. This isn’t to blame Keira Knightley or Elizabeth Taylor or Doris Day or anyone, who after all have their careers to look out for and live (or lived) in the actual world. The consequences of being the Plain One are different for women, obviously, as is so much else.


In the (recorded) performance of The Rover I saw recently, there is a sort of Pretty One/Plain One thing going on with the men. The titular character is a womanizer who all women fall for immediately; the high-priced prostitute even sleeps with him for free. There is a supporting character, a country bumpkin so unattractive that the mere idea of him finding romance is a joke—the prostitute that pretends to fall for him actually rolls him and robs him and dumps him in the river. Without sleeping with him, which his buddies find particularly hilarious.

Anyway, the Plain One is played by Daniel Craig. And the Pretty One is played by Andy Serkis. And it works just fine. That part of it, anyway—I have some more serious thoughts about the play and the production, which would require a separate note. But yes, Andy Serkis was the Pretty One, and Daniel Craig was the Plain One, and that isn’t the problem with the production at all.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,