Way back when, when I was a wee nipper, probably the eighties so there’s a chance a mullet was involved, I remember watching a Sherlock Holmes film. I can’t remember the name, nor even who played Holmes, and I’m pretty certain is a ‘inspired by the tales of Arthur Conan Doyle’ more than an adaptation of one of the stories, but a scene from it has stayed with me since.
It was towards the end, when we find out the mastermind was really one of the gentlement helping Holmes with the investigation, but really he was forging money on the side for…. I dunno, unicorn training possibly. Anyway, the scene opened with him and his henchman on a hackney cab being dropped off on some suitably misty docks.
“That’ll be tuppence ha’penny,” says the cabby.
“Here you go,” says the arch villain, and hands over some paper money. “Keep the change.”
“Cor blimey, guvnor! That’s more money than I seen in my bleeding’ life! Gaw bless ya!”
“It’s quite all right,” says the villain, “I print me own,” Cue knowing laugh.
Then the henchman leans over and cuts the driver’s throat.
No, even back then when little Mikey was watching in his Ghostbusters jammies something struck me as wrong there. We were supposed to believe that this man, up until now a perfectly level, likeable gent, had a sinister, sociopathic side he somehow managed to hide from the world for 50 years. Which is fine, I suppose, it could happen. Has happened in real life, but then we also have to believe he would do something so unnecessarily cruel as to have useless exchange, a baseless quip and then kill someone for no reason?
I’m assuming the director needed a way visually demonstrate this guy was now the baddie. Which is fine. Unnecessary, but fine, given ti had already been established, but it destroyed the believability of a character set up over the course of the film.
I’ve been thinking about this recently as I’ve been listening to A Feast for Crows, the , oooh, fourth book in George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire? I think it’s the fourth, the audio books are split into two and I get confused easily. Anyway, the character of Brienne. We meet her in the second book, and she plays heavily in the third, and in both she’s a strong, feisty and more than capable character who proves herself to be one of the best one on one fighters in the kingdom.
Great! Finally a strong female fantasy character who doesn’t have to open her legs to get what she wants!
But in AFFC Martin goes and changes everything. You see, poor Brienne is crippled by doubt. Literally in some cases. It started off intriguing, it being a counter point to the women we came to know in the previous two books, and added depth to the character. But it quickly overwhelms her, so completely she’s unrecognisable as the same woman who beat the supposed best swordsman in the world and fought halfway across a country at war to deliver a prisoner.
A character is a living, breathing person, at best, a hook for a plot device at worst, but using the first to do the second destroys the work of a hundred thousand words.