Damian Lewis, at Times Talks London in May 2014, laughs and says:
What you don’t know, Damian, is, one of those dark horses is writing on your fan blog!
I LOVED YOU AS SOAMES FORSYTE!!!!!
There, I said it…
I assume most of you have met Soames Forsyte! In case you haven’t, you should correct that as soon as possible 🙂 And, it is quite easy to meet Soames nowadays — The Forsyte Saga is back on Public Television (check your local PBS station) this summer… And, it comes as no surprise since New York Times reports that The Forsyte Saga “remains among the most beloved installments, ranking behind the landmark “Upstairs, Downstairs” in a 2007 fan poll.” PBS has also just re-released it on DVD and it is now available on iTunes, too. So, make sure you meet the Forsytes one way or the other…
And, now let’s turn our attention to one particular Forsyte…
Soames Forsyte is one of the most complex characters that Damian Lewis brought to life on small screen. A single sentence by John Galsworthy, the Nobel laureate author of The Forsyte Saga summarizes Soames for me: “The biggest tragedy of life is the utter impossibility to change what you have done.”
Soames Forsyte is a complicated and a somewhat pathetic character. But he is not evil. Not even close. He is a man of his times, and at least partly thanks to his upbringing in the Forsyte family, he sees property and duty as the two most important things in life. No wonder they call him “man of property.”
Soames wants to be loved, like everyone else, but he loves way too much when he loves that he can suffocate the person he loves with his love. When his mom says, as a kid, Soames was obsessed with a puppy he had that he was in mourning for a long time after she died, Soames just says “I loved her.” And his mom goes “I am sorry I could not teach you not to love like that.” Soames just does not know how to express his love in a healthy way.
Having said that… I don’t think Soames really has an opportunity to show his love for Irene… He really really loved her. Look at that scene where he has a chance to dance with her when Irene visits the Forsytes with her stepmother.
Look at Soames’ shy smile. He’s over the moon because he’s dancing with her… He’s over the moon later on when he marries her… But Irene never gives him a chance to love her… And, this makes Soames more and more obsessed with her thereby bringing out his erratic behavior which I believe could happen to a lot of people. When you cannot have something you really want, it is quite possible you just idolize it and get obsessed. And, things can go wrong… very wrong.
Otherwise, Soames can love, and he can even love unconditionally — just think of the love he has for his daughter from the moment she is born.
Even though he cannot really express his love in a healthy way, Soames has a good heart. Remember, when Annette’s lover, that disgusting Profond, leaves London for good… Soames offers to take Annette to shopping so that maybe she can forget about it. Who does that? The guy knows Annette has been cheating on him, he also knows everyone knows that she has been cheating on him — the latter probably being worse for someone like Soames… but still… he is trying to do something that could make Annette happy. Awww.
Besides, as much as he loves her, Soames is not possessive with his daughter. He, as a parent in the early 20th century, is quite reasonable with Fleur, while Irene and Jolyon are quite possessive with their son, Jon. Soames even overcomes his pride and goes to talk with Irene and Jolyon about his daughter falling in love with Jon. Can you imagine Irene or Jolyon doing that for Jon? No way. Irene and Jolyon are complete hypocrites when it comes to their son. When they tell Jon about the Soames – Irene marriage, for example, they never talk about how badly Irene treated Soames for years, or how she cheated on him, but they only talk about the rape… which is very convenient for them.
It’s of course inevitable to talk about the rape. There is no legitimate ground whatsoever to make a case there for Soames. BUT… you already know I am a woman of BUTS… 🙂 Soames is very patient with Irene for the longest time. The way she treats him for years is unacceptable. Yes, the rape is a huge mistake on Soames’ part but it happens after years and years of “ice cold” Irene plus after that “dance” with Bossiney in front of everyone — probably the most humiliating moment ever for Soames Forsyte that at some point he loses control.
On the other hand, Irene does not try just a little bit to be happy with Soames. She knows from day one that she will leave him one day. Then why does she marry him in the first place? Remember nobody forces Irene into marriage. Soames does not push her at all; once she says no to his marriage proposal, Soames is on his way to London, and Irene comes and tells him that she will marry him!
Oh, Irene, you know what, I really don’t like you, I cannot like you, I don’t want to like you!
Yes, her stepmother tells her to marry Soames that but she did not not have to… she could wait for another suitor. I think she just sees an opportunity in Soames to marry well and have money and security and then just leave him whenever she sees convenient. And, that’s exactly what she does! For Irene, it’s all about “I don’t love him, I cannot love him, I don’t want to love him.”
Back to the rape… Soames suffers all his life about this one mistake that he makes. The last episode is a big revelation about that. When he tells Fleur “she remembers THAT whenever she sees me” is such a pain for him, and when he takes off his gloves to shake Irene’s hand in the very final scene, it is so obvious that this man suffered all his life because of one mistake he made. And, if someone suffers that much all his life, that someone cannot be a villain. He is just someone that turned into a pathetic man because of the unrequited love that he had for a woman who actually did not deserve one single bit of that love. SIGH.
And THE scene that got me the most… Soames seeing Jolyon and Irene together at Annette’s restaurant… And, one more little detail: Irene is pregnant, too! Now… just put yourself in Soames’ shoes for a moment. He’s THE guy that has done everything right. He does well in school, becomes a solicitor, he has money, he marries a woman he falls in love with and is loyal to his wife and family. Still, his cousin Jolyon gets the girl… Jolyon lives a bohemian sort of life with a woman he is not married to, has children out of wedlock with her — these people are not living in 2015, Jolyon’s life style is probably embarrassing to a family like the Forsytes in the Victorian-Edwardian era. So, Irene falling in love with Jolyon is so humiliating for Soames, and he probably again asks himself “what’s wrong with me?” and he just cannot stand there, he leaves. I believe that, as he bites his nails in that scene, he is thinking about the rape, and he thinks that Irene also thinks about the rape when she sees him, and he just does not know where to hide. He goes home, he dances with Irene’s red dress, lies on the bed with the dress and he says “just one last chance.” Soames is eternally trapped in his one mistake for life. It should feel like a life sentence. Terrible.
It is equally inevitable to talk about the “dance scene”. Irene does not have any right to humiliate Soames in front of all those people. It is outrageous. That is my big RED line. You may not love your husband, but there is something called RESPECT and you cannot humiliate a man that did not do anything bad to you. It is so sad, so very sad when Soames asks her “What’s wrong with me?” on the way home that night… That’s a lot to stomach, not just for Soames, but for anyone.
And, it’s incredible how a 30-year old young actor pulls this off! Damian Lewis is simply phenomenal as Soames — so, Damian; it’s all YOU to blame for my soft spot for Soames, by giving us this man, in whom, in Vanity Fair‘s words “we feel the ache of a poet, a poet who has no words.”
So, this dark horse says… Your one mistake, Soames, was falling in love with Irene! She did not deserve your love. If you had met someone else, say, some 19th century dark horse who would genuinely want to be happy with you… You could have written The Forsyte Fairytale together 🙂