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Writings of Albert Morris
Article 10 - Sneaking admiration for the caddish epitome of literary villains

I HAVE for long had a sneaking sympathy, furtive affection and covert admiration for literary villains. From out of the cultural closet, I can claim that Soames Forsyte, solicitor, man of property, epitome of upper middle-class Edwardian England and art connoisseur, is a good egg, if a little cracked, for marrying Irene, portrayed on ITVís Forsyte Saga by Gina McKee whose features suggest an Aintree favourite peering over a paddock fence. Emotionally, she is like an unmelting splinter of the Antarctic ice-cap.

Face the John Galsworthy facts and consider the evidence of the television serial. Even the most biased viewer or reader of the three novels that mainly recount the story of a family where boardroom victories are eroded by bedroom defeats, will, I hope, feel some empathy for a man, wearing the purple of the legal profession and revelling in its riches who cannot conjure up even the ghost of a smile from a wife who treats him as if he were something seen wriggling unpleasantly under a microscope.

Granted Damian Lewis, as the repressed Soames, is no oil painting, his face suggesting at times a muzzled wolverine or, in rare moments of repose, a pale, Turnerish, watery sun. But then nobody is perfect, and when he comes home after a hard day dealing with torts and malfeasances, he could surely, even within the narrowest limits of marital rights, expect the occasional nod of smiling recognition and some words of welcome that do not sound like the result of complicated excavating machinery delivered at the pithead from a wife who, although she married him reluctantly and wears, along with fashionable apparel, the expression of a suffering saint, has taken full advantage of the good life.

The rape scene? I can hardly believe it happened. I expected the clash of titans, with Irene delivering in defence the swift right cross to the jaw that she had demonstrated earlier towards an incensed female relative, and not what appeared to be sad, even vulgar horseplay. It was a caddish act by Soames, but when seen in the context of Irene lolling on a lewd love bed with her designing architect friend, perhaps forgivable.

Soames would, I suspect, be Tory and could have stood for Parliament when not engaged in doubling his doubloons. He might have made a good modern Chancellor of the Exchequer with his materialistic qualities mingling with sudden passionate actions resulting in him slipping stealthily between the national balance sheets and carrying out a violent and unexpected rape of pensions and savings.

For a juicier villain, give me Shakespeareís Iago, the trusted aide-de-camp of Othello. Here is a character who, in a government spin-doctoring team, could, with whispers, asides and unattributed information, all delivered with spiked subtlety and silken wit, have briefed against Mo Mowlam, sunk Keith Vaz without a trace, sent the Hinduja brothers into economic oblivion and Peter Mandelson packing as ambassador to Ulan Bator. A likely favourite at No 10 parties, and a hoot on Have I Got News For You, such a character is badly needed today.

I have a soft spot in my head if not my heart for Goneril and Regan, King Learís proto-feminist daughters. With the problems of a divided kingdom to run and with old daddy losing his monarchial marbles, suffering from wind and with his reign gone west, life for two ambitious, pragmatic, pin-sharp and land-reform-focused females would never be easy. Today, they would be tension-thriving, high-flying heads of globalised companies in which employees, in new budget-trimming requirements, could come low on a valuable assetsí list, next to paper-clips.

Richard III, a traditional bad hat, I regard as another good, though 15-minute, egg. Under his yolk, England prospered and if he had a short, sharp way with kingly rivals, it was only different in degree to todayís boardroom battles. "I can add colours to the chameleon, change shape with Proteus for advantages, and set the murderous Machiavel to school." With minor alterations to these claims, he sounds a typical advertising agency executive who could produce deathless slogans like, "Donít forget the fruit gums, mum", and, "Youíll look a little lovelier each day with fabulous pink Camay."

Coming soon; the rehabilitation of Shylock, Heathcliff, Rebecca de Winter, Count Dracula and Mr Hyde. Meanwhile, thereís no place like Soames.

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