I blame Timothy Dalton… and David Bowie. Definitely Harrison Ford and Charles Dance and Richard Chamberlain and Leslie Howard. And quite possibly James Spader, though I keep wavering on that one – I’m just not sure if he’s her father or not, so I need to reserve final judgement. But for the others, they were definitely highly influential.
It was 1984. I was wee – seriously toddler-sized. Completely incapable of reaching up to turn the dial to change the channel (oh, yes, we’re talking about the early ‘80s Zenith tv model). PBS was supposed to be the “safe” channel. Apart from the death of Mr Hooper, it was child-friendly. It was all King Friday and Queen Sarah Saturday and Prince Tuesday and Mathnet. And yet, this was to underestimate the juggernaut in my house that was Masterpiece Theater. (Though, to be completely honest, Monsterpiece Theater was more of a favourite at the time.)
The first thing my father ever recorded from tv was The Prisoner of Zenda (BBC, 1984 version) and he either didn’t have the Beta-max on loan from his school that week or he and my mother hadn’t realized how absolutely stupendous the thing we were about to watch would be – for whatever the reason, I only remember flashes of the BBC Timothy Dalton version of Jane Eyre: Timothy Dalton sitting by the fire, Pilot at his feet; Timothy Dalton using the ‘old woman voice’ while telling Jane’s fortune; Timothy Dalton/Mr Rochester telling Jane she was to go to Ireland and how that knotted string under his ribs might snap because of the distance between them; young Jane being reprimanded by Mr Brocklehurst about how bad girls go to hell; Rochester/Dalton howling Jane’s name as she ran up the stairs; Bertha launching herself off the burning roof, with Rochester two seconds to late to stop her; the wedding-ceremonius interruptus…
That pretty much cemented the idea in my young, impressionable brain that a truly shippable romance involved torturous restraint, the overcoming of ridiculously cruel obstacles (perhaps with the use of magic or the supernatural), and a healthy age-gap.
Love wasn’t love without a good decade between the protagonists.
Over the years, the possibilities seemed to increase. Rhett Butler was that much older than Scarlett, while Henry Higgins (at last the 1938 Leslie Howard version) had a certain spark with Eliza Doolittle that made him dancing with her at the Ambassador’s Ball that much more special. Dancing, of course, brings up thoughts of Johnny and Baby, while real historical pairings like Cleopatra and Julius Caesar also tended to work well on screen (again, especially if Timothy Dalton was involved in the final casting choice).
This type of pairing, however, is one of those throw-down deal-breakers of pop culture. You’re either on Team A(ge) or Team B(arf). This can change over time, of course. I recently had a nameless dear friend admit to me that Giles had suddenly become so much more appealing than Angel upon re-watching Buffy so many years later. I fully concede, I did a victory dance around the kitchen when she texted that.
Still, if you find the following match-ups more of a squick than a sigh, that’s entirely your right. And I hope you enjoy your time with Justin Bieber.
As for me, on a Valentine’s Day evening like this when it’s bloody freezing outside and a multiple movie-night is already underway, these are the match-ups that make me think of true romance, or at least true shipperdom…