The Tale of the two Nicholases

March forward Damian Lewis.

Damian has played a soldier several times, but I’m going to focus on two specifically. They share a name, they were both PoWs and they both ended up disgraced and dead.

Nicholas Brody (Homeland)

In Homeland, Damian plays Marine Sergeant Nicholas Brody, laterally promoted to Marine Gunnery Sergeant, before he left the Marine Corps to become a Congressman.

source: showtime
source: showtime


Nicholas McGrade (Colditz)

In Colditz, Damian plays Corporal Nicholas McGrade, laterally promoted to left Lieutenant.

Source: ITV
Source: ITV

There are spoilers for both Homeland and Colditz in this blog.

Chatting away about all things Damian as we usually do we discovered that, while Nicholas Brody has my sympathies, Nicholas McGrade does not. Damianista quite likes McGrade (even though it annoys her other half, Lewisto). I’m going to share my thoughts on the two of them and Damianista will respond later. We would also like to hear your thoughts on them so please let us know.

Nicholas Brody

It is in the Pilot that Brody took a hold of my heart. It isn’t when the famous “I’m an American” line is delivered. It isn’t as we see him staring in a mirror as he is taken care of in Germany, it isn’t the thousand yard stare as someone asks him if he is ok – how do you answer that after 8 years anyway?- and it isn’t as he is “puking his guts up” on the flight home. No. What really got me is him asking for his mother after being reunited with his wife and kids. It’s the facial expression once he translates Jess’s awkward silence into the reality that his mother did not live to see him come home. Lost little boy doesn’t even begin to adequately cover Nicholas Brody’s plight.

If you strip the character down to his core, the Brody we meet came completely into being when that Drone attack killed Issa and the other children. It was the culmination of 8 years of physical, mental and emotional torture, of isolation and separation. A parent would be distraught at what happened to Issa and there is no telling what you might do, but Brody agreed to put himself back in a hole for 9 months so he would look like he needed rescuing when the time came and then agreed to carry out a bombing. He was clearly too dependent on his relationship with Issa which is entirely understandable. Issa is the first human (and an innocent one at that) contact Brody has in years. It is likely that Issa reminded him of the fact that he is a father and of the innocence that a child represents. When Issa was killed the little left of the man with a good heart shattered.


Brody’s vulnerabilities and weaknesses, a key part of the character, are fully on display in season one as we see how easily he is manipulated by Nazir (S1, ep9, Crossroads) into going through with what he had decided the episode before (S1, ep8, aptly named Achilles Heel) he could not do.

He battled constantly within himself, caught between ensuring that those who killed Issa did not get away with it and trying to re-connect with his own family. Dana is the only one he really manages to re-connect with and it is no surprise it is to her Carrie turns in Marine One. The two people (at that point – Dana would change her mind in S2) willing to try and accept the man that came home rather than wish for the man who left for Iraq. Mostly, Brody found himself unable to re-connect with his old life. The people in it had moved on without him. The man responsible for Issa’s death is Vice President. How sickening that must have been to deal with. In short, his old life likely seemed as far away as it did for those 8 years. He had little left but not to (in his mind) let Issa down.

In the end we know he couldn’t do it and it further emphasised how easily Brody could change his mind. From being so sure of himself seconds beforehand and willing to die to someone now sure that he cannot do it because his own children are important. Finally to the crumbling and panicking mess in that car park destroying himself and the one person who could accept him because he can’t stand his daughter knowing his shame.

This is a man whose own mind is torturing him now.

The episode Grace (S1 ep2) possesses a fantastic piece of acting (one of many) from Damian where Brody is left at home while Jess goes to work and the kids go to school. Unable to deal with the press banging his front door and phoning the house continuously, Brody goes into his bedroom and finds the darkest corner in it, slides down the wall until he is huddled tightly like a ball in that corner. He traces the wall with his fingers and mutters to himself as he has flashbacks about the cell he was held captive in. Damian’s performance in the bunker and the car park respectively in Marine one (S1, ep 12) are absolutely outstanding. From somehow making you feel compassion for him even as though it appears as if he is about to blow that bunker up to making you scream at the TV as Brody rips Carrie’s (his own and everyone else’s) heart out is just superb.

During season 1 of Homeland we questioned every week whether Brody had been turned or not. Damian’s ability to play the ambiguity required to keep us all guessing should not be understated. It is easy to be sympathetic with Brody when you consider his circumstances, but I have no qualms in saying that Damian’s performances make it especially easy to be sympathetic with Brody.

source: Showtime
source: Showtime

Nicholas McGrade

McGrade is in your face with his opinions. He doesn’t hesitate to give them and, you might say, that for a soldier who has to make decisions quickly and decisively that is a good thing. However, pay close attention to how Damian holds himself as McGrade. He is always pushing into someone’s space or leaning towards them when making a point to get his way. McGrade likes to be in control and forcing issues to get his way i.e. out of the way of conflict.

McGrade does not even attempt to hide his horrendous attitude from his superiors going so far as saying that he isn’t going back to war. Fortunately for him, they have a different role in mind, but this was the first warning sign to his superiors that McGrade is not a man to be trusted or depended upon. He is transferred to MI9, whose job it is to help aid soldiers escaping Prisoner of War camps to get home. McGrade was the first to manage it and so is considered useful.


Whilst McGrade is in London, he sets about finding Lizzie Carter (Sophia Myles). Jack (played by Tom Hardy), a fellow soldier and escapee, who is re-captured and put in Colditz had fallen in love with Lizzie. As he is too hurt to accompany McGrade on the last bit of their escape, he asks McGrade to find Lizzie and make sure she is ok and to tell her that he is ok.

McGrade finds Lizzie and does let her know Jack is alive and endeavours to make sure she is ok. He even appears to be genuine initially, but during their first meeting he clearly becomes enamoured with her. The longer he is in London the more selfish he becomes and he looks to take complete advantage of Jack’s absence.

McGrade sets about inserting himself into Lizzie’s life, applying pressure to her and backing off when he senses he may be pushing too far too quickly. He can’t help but let his character shine through occasionally though even while trying to be the shoulder for her to lean on. He openly speaks to her about people needing to die as London is being bombed and how he was nothing before the war started and now he means something. He scares her and Lizzie is disgusted with herself and runs away from him after they kiss for the first time.


Just after this scene, there is a scene where MI9 are advised that someone has broken out of Colditz and McGrade is clearly concerned it is Jack. There is a clear look of relief when it is confirmed to be Captain Sawyer.

Lizzie is thereafter cautious and distant with McGrade who is becoming increasingly agitated by her resolve and loyalty to Jack. McGrade, in his desperation to get what he wants, uses his position to insist that all mail incoming from Jack is forwarded to him and not the intended recipient. He then writes up a false report of Jack’s death on which he falsifies the signature of his commanding officer. This letter is then delivered to Lizzie (via her friend, Jill), who is utterly heartbroken and Jill comforts her.

The house in which Lizze and Jill stay in is bombed. They both survive, but Jill’s face is badly scarred and she can’t feel her legs. She is hospitalized while Lizzie is mostly unscathed. McGrade visits the hospital and he and Lizzie talk about Jack and their relationship. He plays it cool at this point agreeing that they should just be friends, being sympathetic and understanding, but his words reveal his motivation to us. He is playing the waiting game.

He and Lizzie go to the moves one evening and McGrade can’t help but push the issue of their relationship as he is worried about the fact that he is being sent back out in to the field to aid escapees. Lizzie refuses to be pressurised even after he tells her he is leaving.

We see Lizzie visiting her friend Jill in Hospital and Jill laments the fact that a man she had been seeing hasn’t come to see her since the bombing (he is alive) and how no one would love her now. She is scared of dying a virgin and angry at having waited. Lizzie is shocked because Jill had always given the impression that she wasn’t a virgin. Jill replies “it was all I had over you”. Nice!

McGrade owes Jill a drink because it is he words that drive Lizzie to him. It is difficult to see McGrade get what he wants, but I can suffer the hardship for how beautiful Damian and Sophia Myles are together in this scene. Lizzie genuinely thinking Jack is dead seeks comfort and love from a man who appears to her to be every bit as good a man as Jack.

McGrade is then informed that Jack has escaped from Colditz and he is none too happy about it and suggests he should be assigned to assist Jack. He is even less happy when Captain Sawyer is initially assigned the task of aiding Jack back to London.

McGrade’s mask of coolness thereafter slips as he becomes increasingly more desperate. It doesn’t help him that Sawyer has clearly worked out what he has done and McGrade attacks him. Knowing Jack is on his way home, McGrade asks Lizzie to marry him and suggests they move to America. Utterly convinced by him now, Lizzie agrees.

McGrade plots to ensure that Jack does not get home and leaks the location of Jack’s safe house. Jack manages to escape again, but the others in the safe house are killed. McGrade’s defensiveness and obsession with Jack begins to give him away. The people around him begin to pick up on his mannerisms and character.

McGrade is advised of Jack’s imminent arrival in London. He tries to flee and attempts to convince Lizzie to go with him right away. While Lizzie is packing her bags, Jack arrives and Lizzie can hardly believe it when she comes into the room to find Jack standing there. The last of McGrade’s lies are exposed. There is a stand-off between Jack and McGrade. McGrade is killed by other officers arriving to aid Jack.

Similarly with Brody, it is Damian’s acting that helps me perform my opinion of this character and results in a lack of sympathy for him. Right from the start there is something very off putting about McGrade. He rubs the other characters up the wrong way and will pay dearly for it in the end as those who dislike him are more aware of his less redeeming qualities which convinces them to check up on him.

The issue with McGrade is that he is very selfish. He is portrayed as someone who has not been affected by his stint as a Prisoner of War. The war is an inconvenience to him which is getting in the way of his life. He wishes to be anywhere else and he doesn’t really care who is who (Allied forces or Nazi), he just wants to be out of the way. This is where Brody wins out for me. Brody wanted to go and serve his country and was captured. Laterally, Brody’s motivations were always around a child he loved. It isn’t even that I would say McGrade is a coward. He just doesn’t care. He is self-serving.


20 thoughts on “The Tale of the two Nicholases”

  1. The two characters are soldiers, but very different!
    I must say, I like them both, all, thanks to the superb interpretation of Damian!
    I never thought Brody was a real terrorist, and I understood and forgiven, why he wanted to kill the vice president!
    When a McGrade, yes, he was selfish,, sometimes cruel, but his passionate love for Lizzie is terrible, a fact that I have come to understand it, and find excuses!
    And at the end, what a beautiful face Damian, when he looks lizzie and said “I love you”, which emotional expression on his face, whenever I have tears in my eyes! And what we feel is thanks to Damian talent

    1. Hi Monique. I actually dislike McGrade because of Damian’s wonderful performance. I view this as being an intentional choice in that he isn’t intended to be liked…at least that is what I took from it. I also saw him as more obsessed with Lizzie than anything else. I’m so glad we can discuss our different opinions and I know Damianista is itching to get her response blog up! Much thanks to Damian’s talent indeed.

    2. Monique – I told you we are soulmates!!!! I am the Queen of Excuses when Nicholas McGrade is concerned 🙂 I still think, even with my crush on McGrade, I cannot justify the ways he chooses to get to his means… But those little moments with Lizzie… His love is genuine… SIGH <3

  2. I havent watched colditz so didnt read the second section as I dont want any spoilers :). I have been a huge Haomeland fan ; watched first 3 seasons multiple times . Brody was once in a lifetime sort of a character and Damian Lewis made it an unforgettable one. Only thing i didnt like about Brody was that he actually tried to blow himself but couldnt as there was malfunction in the switch; I lost some of the sympathy for him then; as nothing can be justifiable for such action. I loved his impossible sort of relationship with Carrie which was just magical ; they has an amazing chemistry together. I should get in to colditz and then looking forward to Billions which seems like a must watch

    1. I’m glad I included that spoiler warning! I’ll always find an excuse for Brody. Damian’s acting in Homeland was just amazing. I really felt for him even as it seemed he was doing it. So broken and Damian’s acting drove it home. Carrie and Brody (especially season 1) was brilliant.

      Please check out Colditz and pop back and let us know what you think. I absolutely cannot wait for Billions.

  3. McGrade in Colditz was a mere chess piece in a pulp fiction story. It’s not Damian’s fault that this role had superficial motivation and no real character development. He made more of the part than there was on paper.

    Brody, on the other hand, was a soldier for both sides. His motives transcended the meaning of war and gave insight into what the war was about. That was Homeland at its best.

    Funny to note that Hillary’s emails show she was watching Homeland back in October 2012. That was season 2, when Brody was still the center of the story. I miss those days.

    1. I agree completely that Damian made the absolute most of the role. He was the perfect mix of a man in control, needing to be in control and then losing it. From the start, I didn’t get the impression you were meant to like McGrade and that Damian played it that way.

      That is exactly why Brody is my favourite character from Homeland. The insight was fabulous. I miss those days too!!!

    2. Colditz is not the series of the year or anything but I thought McGrade character is developed more in a way that we get to know him more than a little and understand where he’s coming from as well as his intentions. But I completely agree with you that Damian has given us more than whatever was on paper as McGrade. Brody, on the other hand, is a completely different story. I once heard Damian saying in an interview that it is always the GOOD writing that the actor is able to elevate… And Damian elevated the top quality Homeland writing to levels of acting that I had never witnessed before… You know, I was this very “normal” academic doing my own thing before Homeland and suddenly Brody came along, caught me so off-guard and turned everything upside down!!! Seriously. He made me a Damian Lewis fan for life and a blogger, too!!! See? Brody is a completely different story 😀

  4. Great post, partner — you perfectly capture the Tale of the Two Nicholases! I completely agree Damian does not intend the viewers to like Nicholas McGrade. It is another story that it does not work for me 😀 There are those little moments of him where McGrade seems genuine to me… Young and In Love. And I think his love for Lizzie is real, it’s not just some peeing contest with Jack; but even I, who has a secret crush on McGrade — cannot justify his ways to get to his means. He is a bad boy and Damian plays him as the bad boy that he is… On the other hand, Brody is a completely different story. He is not a real bad boy even at times that he seems to be one in that bunker! He’s a true victim of the war.

  5. The highlight of Colditz for me is the scene when Damian’s sociopathic McGrade delights in the burning of the city and tries to drag the sweet, scared Lizzie to enjoy it with him.

    Might we ever talk in a polite blog about sexual abuse of prisoner’s of war and whether it might have contributed to Brody’s PTSD? Damian gives some clues and I am curious how the rest of you interpret them.


    1. Thanks, Agnes. That scene is a wonderful scene. You see how confused and scared Lizzie is as though she’s only just now seeing McGrade.

      I will have a chat with the team and see what we can do. I certainly think there is a lot to be explored in relation to Brody’s PTSD

      1. Agnes, thank you for great feedback! THAT scene is THE highlight for me as well. I see it a bit differently than the two of you, and will try to put it in words in a couple of weeks. I need to put my crush on McGrade into words somehow – have to get it out of my chest 🙂 Thank you for the suggestion about Brody’s PTSD. I completely agree with Bookworm that there is a lot to be explored in relation to Brody’s PTSD. We all love Brody, and try to post about anything Brody, say it’s his new faith or his broken marriage to Jess; so PTSD is a must-write for us! So, Bookworm, I am in!

    2. Do you mean Brody gave us some clues, or did Damian in interviews, etc.?

      I’d be interested to know what clues you’ve seen? His behavior towards Jessica seems the biggest tell of the torture he went though, and while that spoke a lot to his inability to be physically close after being tortured, I didn’t see it necessarily as evidence of sexual abuse. Eight years without human touch (except Nazir offering him water and his son to love) can do a fair amount of damage with or without the sexual element thrown in.

      One other thing to note is that in preparation for the role of Brody, Damian read Brian Keenan’s An Evil Cradling, a telling of the author’s ordeal as a hostage in Beirut for five years. Lots of isolation, some beatings, but nothing sexual in that true story. Reading the book, you nearly expect it at every turn, but it doesn’t.

      We do plan to tackle the topic of PTSD soon. It’s an important one, so we want to be sure to do it justice.

  6. Hola.Muy buen informe!!! No vi la pelicula Colditz. Me encantaria hacerlo, pero por aqui no se consigue mucho deDamian.

    1. Muchas Gracias, Analia! Comprendo Espanol pero prefiero escribar en Ingles. Colditz is available for purchase on if you want to see it. Muchas gracias para leyer nuestro blog!

      1. I ordered it on Amazon because it’s pretty cheap and it wasn’t in the NYC Library DVD collection. I only recently learned what it was about. I had heard of it for years but only knew he played a soldier in it. I didn’t realize it was about a real Nazi prison in a castle for captured soldiers. Soldiers who had escaped other prisons so they put them in one made harder to escape from. That’s all I know so will watch it soon. This was early in Damian’s career. Damian often plays soldiers and prisoners and in this he plays both.

        1. Please watch Colditz and let us know what you think. Bookworm loves Damian’s portrayal of McGrade but does not like McGrade. And I have a soft spot for him that I will post my rebuttal on Friday. Hope you enjoy Colditz first and then enjoy our write-ups.

  7. Great piece Bookworm!

    I tend to think McGrade was meant as sort of a flat villain, a foil to the love story between Lizzie and Jack. Just as Soames was the villain, the foil to the love story of Irene and Bosinney. Of course, Soames was the much richer character, and more of a central character in Forsyte Saga. McGrade was more limited as a character. Still Damian managed to lend sympathy to both “villains”.

    And like Brody, McGrade was an interesting mix of cynic and idealist. His cynicism of course fueled by his time tortured and in a hole, and idealism in thinking that killing one man and blowing himself up would be enough to solve all his pain. McGrade’s cynicism was material as well…he wanted what others had. And that scene outside the building on fire showed his idealism….the world is being destroyed but I love this girl and that makes up for all the fires in the world.

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