Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The League of Gentlemen: A Disappointment

Sometimes I wish there were real, classy villains.

James Bond villains. Classy villains. Delicious men with such twisted idealism and beautiful plotting that you can’t help but fall into their gushing grins and want to be evil, too.

(On an unrelated note, I am wary of getting married because inevitably I only fall in love with people of questionable moral fiber, and I don’t want to spend the rest of my life in prison.)

There’s a scene in the episode “Engagement” in the second season of the show The Vicar of Dibley, wherein the Vicar invites Hugo to tea with her. She assumes he’s wondering why she’s asked him over, but to her surprise, he claims he’s figured it out.

You know the film League of Gentlemen, where they gather together the seven master criminals of the world, each of them skilled in their own particular trade—master of disguise, master lock-breaker, explosives expert, etcetera—are all assembled to pull off the greatest robbery of all time. I assume it’s that; am I right?”

He isn’t.

But, I did get the film to watch with my father—this old black and white film from the sixties that I had to borrow from another library system—just to see what Hugo is talking about.

via hypnogoria.com
Fair enough, men who have all been slighted in one way or another by the government/military gather together, all hoping to steal enough cash to embarrass their enemies and live comfortably on an island somewhere until they die.

It was an okay movie, I suppose (obviously, I have to make allowances for the film quality and choices, simply due to the era in which it was filmed), but the story frustrated me. Because these were not classy, dazzling men. They were miffed military men in suits and with petty crimes on their hands.

They ran everything like a polite military operation, secret and dirty and secluded in a day and age before security cameras and annoying neighbors could easily rat them out. Sure, they wore the right clothes, but the silkiness of an Alpha was completely absent.

What was worse, spoiler alert, in the end, they all get arrested because a little boy noticed the faulty plates on their getaway truck. He turned them in to the police and they tracked down the owners.

That made me mad—oh, why did they have to lose? Dad looked at me mildly amused, and reminded me that this was the sixties, and in the end the government and goodness had to win.

Which I thought was stupid.

Granted, I have a sense of morality (somewhere…) and I do tend to have faith in my government, and in the people around me to do the right thing at the right time. Murder is wrong, being mildly rude to someone isn’t particularly acceptable, and I go to church.

All that kind of goes away as soon as I enter a fictional novel.

Books broaden perspectives, change the fabric of morality, philosophy, and science simply as the author sees fit. Gods can be created and destroyed, beauty designed and ugliness tempered. Murder becomes a goal, death is desire, blood is a must and it glitters like rubies on the floor. I expect to breathe in the injustice from the pages and absorb it and breathe it out like smoke.

I wanted them to win… Obviously, this league of gentlemen wasn’t perfect and in fact, with a couple of tweaks to the storyline, I could have easily foiled their plan from the comfort of my own living room.

But I wanted them to win, because they were still the heroes. Their evil was the good. And they disappointed me.

Sometimes I wish villains were real. Not because I don’t have a sense of morality, or because I think that their fundamental actions and beliefs are justified. Sometimes I simply wish that there were people like that—classy, with shiny shoes and tailored suits, neatly combed hair, secret lairs, massive danger, and ultimate calm. People who can do their evil right.

Of course, I should be careful what I wish for. Getting kidnapped by terrorists would probably be just as educational, but I doubt I’d enjoy it at all.

Baron Samedi
Flickr Credit: Julien CARTRY
And yet… Kananga, Nero, Rugen, the Darkling, Thorne, the list goes on and on. No matter how much you root for justice, you also have to root for these guys, because they are fantastic.

Take that, my poor league of gentlemen. You deserved what you got.


  1. I know exactly what you mean. When you get a group of characters together who are extraordinary, especially when they're somewhat villainous, you need them to be, well, extraordinary. There has to be something special about them and, if they're going to be the main characters, generally a satisfying ending helps. Villains are some of the best characters in my opinion. There are so many villainous good characters and great villainous characters that all sparkle. Some of my favourite characters are not so well behaved. Id almost worry about my own moral compass but, as you said, everything is different in the world of books.

    1. Exactly! Extraordinary villains make for extraordinary heroes—if there isn't adversity then the MC's won't rise to the occasion! Good villains are definitely the best, and like you say, I'm kind of worried about my moral compass, but you know. Fiction! Fiction is different... Heh.