Saturday, August 27, 2011

Mentally Casting Barney Snaith for "The Blue Castle " Movie of the Mind...

The most amazing, grail-like fictional casting discovery ever has been made.  All passionate readers have at one time or another attempted to find a real-life parallel to the characters they so love to read about.  Casting a favourite book in one's imagination is a wonderful pastime.  Some BBC miniseries and Hollywood adaptations do a great job of matching, some actors seem destined to bring classic characters to life (I mentally cast Jack Davenport as several Georgette Heyer heroes); but finding an actor to play Barney Snaith of L.M. Montgomery’s The Blue Castle, possibly my favourite fictional leading man, eluded me for years.

I felt that some actors captured  the essence of Barney and Eric Stoltz was a possible contender for years ( the right smile, the right hair):

British actors Damien Lewis  and Steven Mackintosh were lesser possibilities:

....Kevin McKidd had the right colouring, too:

....and I sort of want to give a shout-out to Benedict Cumberbatch who probably would be up to snuff as well...

But fair, ginger-haired Barney seemed doomed to evade imaginary casting forever.  I just couldn't pinpoint him and no one seemed right.

Casting Barney Snaith of The Blue Castle is something, in my world, that is well over a decade in the making.  He is the absolute GRAIL of fictional casting and if you find the perfect Barney, well, the imaginative world is your proverbial oyster. 

Shall we spend a few moments recalling Barney?  It’s such an agreeable pastime:

The narrator describes him in wily fashion in the very opening paragraphs of the book….even without our knowing that the description meted out matches Valancy’s soon-to-be leading man. As the dawn arises on Valancy’s 29th birthday, we learn who has pre-occupied her mind. Conveniently replacing the physical characteristics of her imaginative Prince as she grows older, the narrator informs: "recently--very recently--her hero had had reddish, tawny hair, a twisted smile and a mysterious past."

Soon after this dream-like incarnation Barney is viewed through Valancy's furtive glances in downtown Deerwood as she runs errands:

"This was only the second time she had ever seen the notorious Barney Snaith[...] He had been crawling out from under his car then, too, and he had given her a cheerful grin as she went by--a little, whimsical grin that gave him the look of an amused gnome.He didn't look bad--she didn't believe he was bad, in spite of the wild yarns that were always being told of him[...]  But still Valancy didn't believe he was bad.  Nobody with a smile like that could be bad, no matter what he had done."

Barney's smile and his look of an amused gnome are a consistent part of his allure and charm for Valancy and he soon manifests himself in her ever important dream world:
“It was that night the Prince of the Blue Castle changed from a
being of grim jaw and hair with a dash of premature grey to a
rakish individual with overlong, tawny hair, dashed with red, dark-
brown eyes, and ears that stuck out just enough to give him an
alert look but not enough to be called flying jibs.  But he still
retained something a little grim about the jaw.”

 She envies him his freedom and his beguiling manner and she admits at a rigid family dinner that she has studied him closely: both upfront and, as we know from her recalling of her Blue Castle dream sprees, in her imaginative consciousness: "I've seen him twice and I looked at him closely," said Valancy composedly.  "I thought his face the most interesting one I ever

Barney’s physical presence is intrinsically linked to his enigma. Not only is he (with the exceptions of Dean Priest and, to lesser extent, Andrew Stuart) Montgomery’s most dimensional hero, his mysterious past recalls the Byronic and Brontean mystique so prevalent in her novels. Though Valancy’s initial encounters with Barney allow her slight, old-maidenly, shy glances, when she leaves Deerwood for Roaring Abel’s and meets him more consistently as he visits Cissy Gay and even begins an odd friendship with her, she is given further opportunity to notice him:

“His eyes, which she had always thought brown, now seen close, were
deep violet--translucent and intense.  Neither of his eyebrows
looked like the other.  He was thin--too thin--she wished she could
feed him up a bit--she wished she could sew the buttons on his
coat--and make him cut his hair--and shave every day.  There was
SOMETHING in his face--one hardly knew what it was.  Tiredness?
Sadness?  Disillusionment?  He had dimples in his thin cheeks when
he smiled.  All these thoughts flashed through Valancy's mind in
that one moment while his eyes looked into hers.”

That’s right, he had dimples…. A favourite physical mark of Montgomery’s.

So, we’ve covered Barney physically.  Interestingly, other Montgomery heroes (such as Gilbert Blythe and Teddy Kent of Anne of Green Gables and Emily of New Moon respectively) are given far less physical description. Instead, Montgomery sketches them in outline—relying on her readers to colour in their own attributes and physical characteristics.  You can make Gil whatever hero you want him to be, you can colour Teddy with the paintbrush that so tickles your imaginative fancy. Barney, on the other hand (as well as Dean Priest, as a relative if somewhat more cynical comparison), is clearly outlined for you.  While she gives you a snapshot of his physical presence from the very beginning, it is alternatively his past that she expects you to play with until the “reveal” at the end which brushstrokes all of his “missing” information.

So, when mentally casting Barney Snaith, the physical composite is, of course,  a great place to start.  But, as Barney is a dimensional and complicated character, his strong, enticing personality, lackadaisical air, sense of nature and aesthetic pleasure, knack for speaking in all of the languages of the world, and dark past feeding his prototype as Harlequin Hero Extraordinaire is also uber-important.

That’s why  blogger Joni’s mental inspiration for Barney is quite pitch-perfect.
In the comments section of a blog post focusing on (the obviously similar) Edward Rochester, she scribbled:
BUT since you mentioned LMM, I just thought I'd throw this out there: Doesn't Toby Stephens look an awful lot like Barney Snaith from 'The Blue Castle'?” ….”My sister and I have been fantasy-casting 'TBC' for YEARS now. We haven't found a suitable Valancy and maybe never will (everyone in Hollywood is too pretty). But TS circa 'Tenant of Wildfell Hall' is DEAD ON.”

 Say wha.....? But, I know Toby Stephens. How could I have not seen Barney in him?
Toby Stephens is familiar to many like me who hanker after all things British. Think Cambridge Spies, the A&E Great Gatsby (he was a fab Jay Gatsby) Tenant of Wildfell Hall and even an episode of Sharpe and that sad, sad third season of Robin Hood.  But, the image of Toby that most often springs to mind is as his turn as Rochester: a hulking, brooding, dark-haired gentleman whose virility and mischievous, miscreant smile overtakes many of his scenes opposite Ruth Wilson’s Jane Eyre. As I took the time to go back, to recognize  (as I often forget with that pre-possessing Rochester image in mind) that Stephens’ natural colouring is akin to Barney’s and that he indeed has a whimsical smile, a fresh, athletic frame and a mischievous glint in his light eyes, I saw more and more what Joni and her sister did.

Revisiting the 2006 miniseries of Jane Eyre, I read moments of John Foster (John Foster, to those uninitiated with The Blue Castle, is an author who serves a very large role in Valancy and Barney’s romantic development): Rochester and Jane chase dragonflies; they look into nature books in Rochester’s glorious library.  The easy rapport that Rochester shares with Jane, like the preternatural kinship and automatic friendship between Barney and Valancy also offered a serene comparative light.

This seems like a loquacious article when extolling the possible screen-like compatibility of an actor who will probably never grace the screen in our imagined role; but darnit! I have looked for Barney for an age and Joni (whomever she is) is currently my hero for finding him.

Here's some Barney in our friend Toby Stephens. Montgomery writes that Barney had "over-long, tawny hair" in an age when men were known to wear their hair closely cut (here is a photo of a typical 1920s male hairstyle).  Barney's tawny, reddish hair is interesting because he is the only masculine character of her novels to sport a similar shade gifted to her first and  most memorable female heroine, Anne Shirley. [I am not including the next generation of Shirley-Blythes like Walter and Jem: because they are peripheral and not leading men, per se. I like Walter as much as you do.)

Montgomery mentions that Barney often fails to shave (preluding his marriage to Valancy where immediately thereafter he is shown to shave every day).  This BBC interview with Toby Stephens recalls this look.

Finally, Barney is a bit of a rakish fellow and, as such, featuring in an early example of Canadian romance, would sport a roguish grin.  Observe this picture:

I throw this to you:
-What fictional character seems elusive to you when it comes to casting?
-Are you an L.M. Montgomery fan? Who would you cast as Barney? Dean Priest? (we're forgetting that gawdawful Emily of New Moon series from the CBC) Andrew Stuart? 


Katie said...

That handsome Toby Stephens would make a very good Dean Priest, methinks. I actually packed the book to come back to Halifax with me. It's definitely one of my favorite LM Mongomery novels.

I would also like to pass this award onto you: The Versatile Blogger Award. To find out more about it, please visit

Rachel said...

oh dean--- he's so wrong and yet so RIGHT!

glad you have packed up the good 'uns for your return to hali....

oooo! AWARD! I will visit this teacuptortoise of which you speak....

Court said...

Pfft Dean.

But huh. That is... I mean... he does look rather Barney-esque. I still picture Rochester in my mind when I hear his name, but... huh. I'm intrigued and need to think on this a little bit longer.

Gina said...

Every time Montgomery describes Valancy looking back over her shoulder in the forest (the scene where what's-his-name the painter sees her and wants to paint her), I've seen Audrey Hepburn in my mind's eye. Yes, I know, Audrey was beautiful, but in a very unusual way that I think would have fit Valancy. Besides, she had that short haircut in the mid-'50s that would have worked perfectly.

Rachel said...

Gina, I think that works really, really well. I had Emily Mortimer as a possible Valancy in my mind's-eye as well. I think Audrey works because even though she was beautiful; she was of a beauty somewhat specific to her time period--- the lithe, willowy and gamine "elf-like" beauty she had may not have been the societal norm in the late 19-teens and early 1920s.

also, I love that you know/reference blue castle! let's all be friends, kindred spirits!

Gina said...

Isn't it a marvelous book? I love Montgomery! :-)

Rachel said...

me too. you and i have a TON in common, gina, i have followed your lj and dickensblog (they're both in my google reader!) for quite awhile now.

we're both christian
we both LOOOOOOOOOVE dickens!
we both like LM Montgomery and....the icing on the cake...we BOTH LIKE WHITE COLLAR!


Joni said...

Ooooh, I meant to comment on this post ages ago. First of all, how lovely that you wrote an entire blog post on myrandom comment from Booktalk! ;-) I am always buttonholing people in the streets, metaphorically speaking, and forcing them to agree that yes, TS is the closest thing to Barney we're ever going to see. I am so glad that others agree with me!

(Funny but I never even considered Damian Lewis even though I adore his acting - I think it's because I've seen 'Band Of Brothers' many, many, MANY times.)

Rachel, my sister has made a strong case for Emily Mortimer - says she has a throaty, summery voice perfect for lovemaking. I like Emily Blunt, she has those 'odd, slanted eyes.' But I suspect that the perfect Valancy hasn't come to our attention yet and when she does, we will just KNOW.

Anonymous said...

I always thought Lianne Baliban would make a good Valancy.

zorro-líška said...

I just wonder why THE BLUE CASTLE has never been made into a film... (?) ... It is a great story!

Anonymous said...

I always thought that Anne Hathaway might do as Valancy, especially with her hair cut short. I know that this really has nothing to do with Montgomery's description, but when I first read TBC I though Jeremy Renner fit the bill for Barney. He doesn't look much like the character, but I though the roguish smile and the disillusionment were there.

Anonymous said...

His name is not Gil and never was.. except once when Anne cut it off because she didn't want to betray her interest in him! Please don't go all Kevin Sullivan on us.

Anonymous said...

Damian Lewis is revolting and would never do for Barney. But Benedict Cumberbatch, ah yes!

Suzanne Elyse said...

I know this is an old post but I just had to comment because any time I find Blue Castle fans I feel like I might burst into song. I've read this book more times than I care to admit and may or may not have married a man because of his tawny reddish hair.

Kate Stone said...

Oh, squee, this post made my day. I think Eric Stoltz as Barney is a flash of brilliance! Thank you for filling in that mental gap for me. I've been trying to picture him in my head and ES works perfectly. As for Valancy...I really believe that LM must have seen a pic of Louise Brooks somewhere and got her inspiration for Valancy that way. Louise is striking with her bob, but if you ever see her without it she looks very ordinary. Her eyes aren't quite slanted, but if you google LB you'll see "odd, slanted looks" and mischievous smirks that fit Valancy's book description perfectly. You'll even find an enchanting photo of her looking back over her shoulder. Look up clips of her movies from youtube to get an idea of how captivating she was.

Emmanuelle said...

Olivia Wilde is the right age,has slanted eyes, the triangular face, thin hair and the frail body frame required to personnify Valancy. Dye her hair black and the illusion would be almost perfect... Minor the naïveté and innocent look, I guess...

Emmanuelle said...

As for Barney, TS is my favorite, ex aequo with James McAvoy, who has such a presence on screen and who would convey beautifully the desillusionment aspect of B. Snaith's personnality.

melanie said...

It's funny that someone else before me had Olivia Wilde because that's who I have always pictured hollywood wise as Valancy. She is beautiful, but they could make her be Valancy with a little normalizing. As for Barney Snaith, Christian Bale. Sorry folks, thats who I see.

Robin said...

I always pictured Thomas Haden Church, but he might be a bit to old now

Anonymous said...

How about Hugh Jackman circa X-Men Origins: Wolverine (in the early part of the movie, where he is a logger somewhere in Canada) as Barney? Obviously, the muscles he sports in that role are rather too much, and the hair colour isn't quite right, but we know he can play the tortured part! Also, he exudes the laid-back, slightly wry attitude, which is what gave me the idea... What do you think?

Couldn't find quite the right photo, but this is sort of it:

Anonymous said...

Michael Fassbender! The movie rights have been sold, so if they start right now he won't be too old. Keira Knightley is Valancy...perfect age & look (and acting ability). I am looking forward to the movie...hope they do a good job with it!!

Anonymous said...

Mike Fassbender's girlfriend Alicia Vikander could also be Valancy....she is Swedish though. Slight accent might be ok.

GenXalogy said...

Eddie Redmayne perhaps?

Anonymous said...

Tom Hardy anyone?
He doesn't fit the physical description perfectly, but yet he is the only one I could ever picture as Barney Snaith.

"There was SOMETHING in his face--one hardly knew what it was. Tiredness? Sadness? Disillusionment?"

Fits, eh?

Anonymous said...

Nina Dobrev (Valancy), Eddie Redmayne (Barney), Christine Baranski (Aunt Wellington), sarah Gadon (Olive)....come on, make this movie!!