Hey Damian, I loved you as Soames Forsyte… There I said it :)

source: New York Times
source: New York Times

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.”

soames19

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.

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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.

source: ITV studios
source: ITV studios

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!

source: ITV studios
source: ITV studios

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.

source: ITV studios
source: ITV studios

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 🙂

Let Katy Perry sing “Dark Horse” for all the dark horses out there!

Author: Damianista

Academic, Traveler, Blogger, Runner, Theatre Lover, Wine Snob, Part-time New Yorker, and Walking Damian Lewis Encyclopedia :D Procrastinated about a fan's diary on Damian Lewis for a while and the rest is history!

10 thoughts on “Hey Damian, I loved you as Soames Forsyte… There I said it :)”

  1. What a happy accident The Forsyte Saga is. Galsworthy never intended Soames to be a sympathetic character–he meant to make him an example of a failed human. Yet Damian makes Soames’s suffering powerful enough to shift the entire focus of the drama. Perhaps he was miscast in the role, by that standard, but it transforms the piece into a surprisingly emotional character study.

    Funny how other characters have to keep saying, “Oh, how I hate Soames!” Because otherwise we would have no clue why he is hated, or deserves to be. He’s not malevolent or intentionally cruel to anyone. But again, maybe that’s Damian inhabiting a role meant to be more undesirable.

    1. I completely agree about Damian that he makes Soames this guy that we root for in the series and hey Galsworthy should be turning in his grave 🙂 Galsworthy has a foreword in a later edition of the book — once it became very popular especially on college campuses! — where he says he did not intend Soames to be loved but he was – yeah even without Damian in the picture 🙂 Apparently, the story relies a little bit on Galsworthy’s own life, him being Young Jolyon and his wife being Irene who used to be married to a guy like Soames!!!! I never understood why Irene hated him… He did not force her into marriage, he was leaving for London and she came to him! And the whole “I don’t love him, I can’t love him, I don’t want to love him” bullshit… oh let me not even get started on that 😀

      1. Damianista, thank you for sharing your thoughts in this lovely essay! I’m another dark horse who finds Soames (as portrayed by Damian Lewis that is) poignantly, deeply sympathetic and yes, attractive. His wedding day speech to Fleur redeems this view, and should redeem him for those viewers who simply despised him. The rape of Irene occurred because he was driven mad–he doesn’t say that as an excuse, he explains it to his daughter in one of the most moving speeches I’ve ever seen portrayed in drama, a cri de coeur with the resonance of a heartbreaking aria in a tragic opera. In this saga that so vividly captures the essence of yearning and heartbreak, he is the star, and Fleur’s role serves to intensify that. She suffers heartbreak in a parallel way–as her mother says, because, like Soames, she feels too much–but after all, her suffering occurs in a comparatively short span of time, and she is a lucky lucky girl to have been alert enough and tenderly loved enough (by Soames) to recognize the main chance, Mr. Mont, and marry him–a much better partner than sniveling Mama’s boy Jon could ever have been. Soames’ selfless devotion to Fleur confirms the pity I always had for him, even when he was the “brutal” husband of artistic beautiful proportionate Irene. He is mocked as the cold and soulless banker / collector, yet his out-of-control actions [e.g.,hitting things at Robin Hill kind of hard in the scene where he is trying to advocate for the marriage of Jon and Fleur] and speeches [e.g., that’s the child she should be bearing for me!] belie that for me, reminding me of a child who cannot bear what he must bear, and hasn’t developed the devices of adulthood to conceal his fragility.
        Brava, Damianista, for reaching out to viewers like me!

        1. Dear CW! First things first: Thanks so much for reading us, your kind words and your wonderful feedback! Now… as you can see from the article, I am completely with you and I just LOVE your observations about Fleur and how her role serves to intensify the star Soames is. Brilliant! And yes, Fleur’s been really lucky, I never really liked that mommy’s boy Jon and despised the hypocrisy Irene and Jolyon had about Jon/Fleur relationship. I LOVE the scene where Jolyon comes to Soames to complain about their kids’ relationship and Soames puts him in his place brilliantly! Ah that marriage day speech… I was crying as Soames was speaking to Fleur and just looked sideways and my husband was crying, too! Damian Lewis, with his subtle but intense performances, can just let our feelings pour out – amazing! His magic touch to make the unlikable lovable is mind-blowing! I just wrote an article about Damian and Bond today. Rumor has it that he’s in the running and I am really torn because I, just for selfish reasons, would love to see him in roles like Soames — deep, vulnerable, flawed men — rather than super-human 007. Cheers to our Dark Horses Society and hope you come visit us often <3

  2. I too am a dark horse – I loved Soames & hated Irene; she’s cold-hearted & callous towards a man who is clearly besotted with her, I wanted to slap her so many times! Damian is simply magnificent in this role, as is Gina McKee, for making us love the “bad guy” (& hate the “innocent woman) so much! ❤️

    1. Absolutely! Damian’s magic touch makes his characters real so much so that you feel Soames’ suffering and feel for him dearly. I am in “anti-Irene” camp exactly like you. She married him and never gave him a chance.

  3. I guess I must be a dark horse too then…cause I see myself in Soames and it brought a lump to my throat a the time as I was watching. You see, like Soames, I come from a good family, I am good anout making money and I am ambitious. But I fell in love with a man who is very much like Irene: cold, calculating and not willing to return my love.
    He came from poor means and used me to get his papers. But the cheating started very soon into the marriage. And it continued until the day he left.
    He loathed me and was cruel because I loved him too much. He became a monster before my eyes and did everything he could to ruin my pregnancies. I had 5 miscarriages after suffering from extreme stress. My doctors and several specialists could not find out why I kept miscarrying because I was too proud to tell them that I was suffering verbal and psychological abuse in the extreme.
    So we never had a child.
    He would meet with all kinds of women over the Internet and despite my forgiveness time and time again when I would find out, it was never enough to gain his love.
    My family desperately tried to help me, but he threw their interventions in my face and told me I was wrong to talk to anybody about anything between him and I.
    And always, the constant words that would twist my heart over and over again: I don’t love you, I never did, I never can. You are unlovable, ugly, horrid, a wicked woman.
    Irene may not have bullied Soames by telling him these degrading things, but June did and I almost hated her for it.
    Soames, like myself, was too proud to admit that June’s mean words were getting to him. She caused him to fall into a deep depression. I nearly cried during this scene because I did the same. You ask yourself over and over: what’s wrong with me? How can I become that person who you will love with all your heart as I love you?
    I saved myself by letting go and moving on after he told me that he met a woman living 10 minutes from our home and that she promised to have a child for him.
    I did not fuss, fight or try to stop it. I did not contact the woman to tell her that he was a liar and a cheat.
    I let him go to her.
    That’s where he is now. And since the time I chose to let him go and start back living again, things have started looking up for me.
    And he is trying to contact me all the time because I have chosen to leave him alone.
    Oh Soames! If I had met you we could have talked and we would have understood each other! We could have helped each other!
    But the truth is, in more ways than one, we have already met. And I am glad to have met you. Because there is always a light at the end of the tunnel.
    We Soameses of the world are survivors.

    1. Oh My God. Thank you, THANK YOU, for sharing your very personal story with us. It is amazing. It is genuinely a modern day Forsyte Saga where the male and female worlds are swapped. I understand you loved him a lot, we sometimes fall in love with wrong people for all different reasons, but I am also glad you are out of this very abusive relationship. I see in your words that you are happier and in peace right now. And I am so glad to hear that. Sending lots of good thoughts and positive energy your way.

      It is interesting that John Galsworthy, the author, wants us to dislike Soames very badly. The Irene character is based on his own wife who had left her former abusive husband for Galsworthy. I have not read the book, but I completely agree about Soames, his suppressed feelings and his depression, in the version Damian brilliantly brings this character to life. And even though I sympathize with Soames, and do not like Irene because I believe she never gave Soames a chance in their marriage, I also believe only someone that has had a similar experience understands the story the best. Again, thank you so much for sharing your story with us.

  4. I’m a little late to your Forsyte party, my apologies. I found it after watching tonight’s episode which happened to be the “red dress on the bed” episode. I have seen this series with Damian at least three times. I just wondered if anyone else despised Irene as I do. You have said it all so well. Whatever Galworthy intended, Soames, the character, managed to show his own tortured but true self. Damian furthered that true self with some of the best acting I have ever seen. The red dress on the bed scene has stayed in my mind for years as a hallmark of acting excellence.

    Perhaps Gina McKee must be given kudos too? Irene is clearly meant to be a heroine in the book and series. But McKee manages to take this supposed sympathetic character and make her an ice queen. She joined a family willingly and proceeded to trash it with her selfish actions. In addition to her icy actions, she married Soames knowing he wanted a family but she took steps to prevent that happening. While I think with the mind of a modern woman and believe a woman, married or not, has the right to decide if she wants to be pregnant, you still, even today, should not marry a man who wants children and then lie about it. I so loathed it when she would squint her eyes and look down her nose at Soames. One of the meanest of her actions was playing the piano louder than Liberace as her son’s heart breaks for the girl he loves.

    Thanks for your post. LOL, now I know I am not alone in despising Irene the Ice Queen.

    1. “Red dress on the bed.” Isn’t it intense? And a barely 30 year old actor pulling it off seamlessly is beyond impressive. I have an old edition of The Forsyte Saga at home, and as far as I can tell from Galworthy’s foreword, he really wants the reader to despise Soames. Yet, you are absolutely right, as Damian is delivering a tortured soul, Gina McKee is doing a wonderful job in portraying Irene the ice queen, and they are sort of turning the tables against Galworthy 🙂 Thank you so much for reading and hope you come visit us again!

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