THE story goes that the BBC’s message board collapsed after a relatively unknown actor called Richard Armitage starred as mill-owner John Thornton in North and South.
But surprisingly, given he came to prominence in that Victorian-themed drama, Armitage has proven to be the ultimate TV tough guy.
As Lucas North in Spooks, we first encountered him as the pale, drawn spy who’d been freed from a Russian prison, then followed his redemption at M15 as his colleagues came to trust him again, only to learn later that he really was a killer. Even as Sir Guy of Gisborne in Robin Hood Armitage’s character was all action. He was easily manipulated but good with a sword – and he certainly looked good in his elegant, black leather attire). But even in this role he showed he was beyond saving when he killed Marion.
In Strike Back, showing on the ABC on Sunday nights, Armitage is in his element.
He plays John Porter, an SAS operative who resigned after a mission where two soldiers were killed, only to be recalled after a journalist called Katie Dartmouth is kidnapped by the same terrorists he’d fought before.
If you were watching the ABC a few Sunday nights back, Porter successfully rescued Katie in a nail-bitingly exciting episode of Strike Back.
In the consequent episodes, Porter is back with “Section 20” under Hugh Collinson (Andrew Lincoln), who we’ve learnt was also on the mission where the soldiers died and had some role in their deaths.
Strike Back, based on a novel by former SAS soldier Chris Ryan, features some of the most exciting and action-driven scenes on TV. Armitage epitomises a military tough guy; highly trained, able to think on his feet, and ultimately a weapon who can disconnect when he has to kill.
And even though the series is action driven, set in dangerous locations like Iraq and Afghanistan, the story has human elements that draw you in. Porter is a not a simple character; it’s not so much that he’s conflicted, but that he is dealing with guilt over what has happened before and in a sense is seeking some sort of redemption. Unlike Armitage’s Lucas North though, you sense he’ll find it, or at least a resolution.
He’s also sympathetic, every human, even though he’s a trained killer. In the episode where he rescues Katie, they’re strangely drawn to each other through what happened to her and the shared experience.
HOT GUY ALERT: Armitage already has a legion of female fans, sometimes called “the Armitage army”. So I’ll say no more. Oh except, that Armitage bulked up a bit (did he need to?) for Strike Back. (Enough said, now).
ACTION ALERT: This is exceptional viewing. You’ll watch open mouthed – when you’re not gasping. Armitage is the special forces soldier you want on your side in a tough situation.