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Sparkhouse : Playing John Standring

Richard Armitage in SparkhouseJohn Standring was Richard Armitage's first major role on TV.

John works at Sparkhouse Farm, and has been in love with Carol for years. Initially she has little more than a vague affection for him, but he is loyal and hardworking, a good farmer, and as the story progresses Carol comes to rely on him more and more.

Richard Armitage said of John, "He always hopes that she will grow to love him as their relationship changes over the years. He has an affection for her which I feel was based on a need for nurturing rather than on a sexual need. He is very protective of her because of the lack of love she has from her mother and the way her father treats her. But there is a simplicity to John; he doesn't always understand all the nuances of what is going on around him. In some ways he is like an old man on the outside, but there is a real naivety about him - he’s a kind of ‘young fogie’." [1]

John is painfully shy, particularly with women, and at the beginning of the drama he's almost too shy to look at Carol properly.

"John is completely inexperienced with women and incredibly nervous about any kind of sexual contact. Inside, he is just an inexperienced boy who can’t express himself very well. So it was really interesting to play when this big burly bloke finally opens up to show this vulnerable child inside." [1]

He is in his late 20s as the story starts, living with his elderly, sick grandfather in Hebden Bridge, with apparently almost no social life. But by the time Carol returns to Sparkhouse after five years away, he has grown in confidence somewhat and is not only helping her father run the farm but is also working at Broadbents, a local engineering firm (there really was an engineering firm of that name in the area). He really begins to blossom after he agrees to marry Carol, but this is the point at which he becomes vulnerable. As much as he loves her, he realises that she doesn't love him but he must hope that will change over time. After years of loneliness, he's looking forward to a family. He's one of the few unambiguously 'good' characters in Sparkhouse, and it's heartbreaking to see his potential happiness threatened as the passionate, destructive relationship between Carol and Andrew reaches its climax.

To prepare for the role, Richard Armitage spent two weeks working on a farm, "shovelling cow dung". Those who know about such things say he makes a convincing sheep-farmer. [2]

For those who first encounter Richard Armitage playing John Thornton in North and South, the sight of him as John Standring is quite a surprise. As Thornton, he uses his height to convey authority and power, but as Standring, he stoops and hangs his head. It's an unselfish, convincing performance, and is one of his most appealing characters.


[1] BBC Sparkhouse Press Pack
[2] 'vivid' magazine, Spring 2005

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