Top 5 Manchildren in Historical Costume Movies

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Guys, this post may be relevant to my own current interests. Let’s just say I’m in a mood, so this is not the post for nuance and understanding of historical social restrictions or period/modern gender stereotypes (yes, one could absolutely write an equivalent post about womanchildren). This is a post where I’m going to get ranty about bullshit and fuckery, and there will be swearing and a decided lack of nuance. Because manchildren? OVER IT. Here’s my top 5 guys who need to get it to-fucking-gether and take some responsibility for their own choices and their own lives, and learn to realize that there are other people in the universe beyond themselves. Hey, you were warned…

Oh, and of course, SPOILER ALERT for all of these.

 

Henry VIII in Everything

So I’m kind of cheating, because my beef is with the real Henry VIII, not how he’s been portrayed on screen. But because I’ve had the joy of watching him be the world’s biggest spoiled baby multiple times in movies and TV, and because that’s the focus of this here blog, I’m shoehorning this sucker in.

Henry. HENRY. I’M SO SORRY the world doesn’t fall over itself to give you Every Single Thing You’ve Ever Wanted. You married a strong, intelligent woman — WHO YOU CHOSE TO MARRY. This wasn’t some “my parents made me!” situation. Oh no, you were all down with the hot, slightly older redhead. But you two have some bad luck in the children department, NONE OF WHICH IS HER FAULT, because you two HAVE live children, one of whom grows up to be QUEEN; you just live in a high infant mortality era. But clearly in your mind, Catherine of Aragon is just being difficult in not birthing you a son, so chuck her over the garden wall and run off with the hot young thing.

The Other Boleyn Girl

“BUT I WANT ALL THE TOYS” (The Other Boleyn Girl)

So you do run off with that hot young thing. But she’s also strong and intelligent and challenges you intellectually … and she dares to give birth to a healthy DAUGHTER. OH NOES. NOT ANOTHER DARN WOMAN. So let’s see, what is the appropriate response … oh I don’t know, how about we CHOP THE HEAD OFF THE WOMAN YOU WERE SO IN LOVE WITH. Right. That seems like what Emily Post would recommend.

The Tudors (2007-2010) TV series costumes

“I said I loved her? AHAHHAHAHA. No, I meant I WANTED her. I only love ME.” (The Tudors)

Now you get to pick your next wife, so you pick Miss Wallpaper Paste. Things seem okay, because at least she’s meek and retiring and gives you a son, but then she rudely goes and dies on you.

Wolf Hall

“BUT I LIKE IT WHEN SHE WIPES MY ASS FOR ME” (Wolf Hall)

So now you’re single, so you send off for a Hot Young Thing from another country. But she shows up and is horrified that you’re kind of gross, and maybe you think she’s kind of dumpy. Instead of humaning-up and doing what you promised you’d do — marry her — you finagle an annulment. Because god forbid Poor Widdle Henry has to EVER lower his standards.

Charles Laughton in The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933)

I’m sorry, what lady WOULDN’T throw her knickers at this stud? (The Private Life of Henry VIII)

So then you marry a SUPER hot, SUPER young thing, not having any idea of the fact that you are a disgusting old loser. And when she goes elsewhere for some shagging, you are so affronted — she should be thrilled to have your giant sweaty body heaving on top of her! — that you chop off HER head.

Keith Michell in Henry VIII and His Six Wives (1972)

“I don’t share.” (Henry VIII and His Six Wives)

Finally, you decide to give one last fuck-you to womankind. You pick a woman who is totally in love with someone else, someone she had to give up in order to marry where her family wanted her to, but her husband had died and she’s finally free to marry The One. Okay, so he turns out to be a dick, but that’s beside the point. Why don’t you rip her away from her one chance at happiness and turn her into a nursemaid for you. Because god forbid she actually get to actualize her own needs! Someone needs to tell you you’re special regularly!

The Other Boleyn Girl (2003)

“I’m sorry, other people have needs??” (The Other Boleyn Girl)

 

Newland Archer in The Age of Innocence

I’ll just own up: sure, I normally love a good tragedy. And I love a story where you get to understand just some of the restrictions placed on people by the society in which they live. But the reason I don’t LOVE The Age of Innocence is because of Newland fucking Archer.

First of all, the name: NEWLAND. There’s nothing “I’m going to have a spine and own my choices!” about that name. That’s the name of a spineless wimp who’s going to be Vewy Sad that life is full of big meanies not handing him lollipops all day.

Daniel Day-Lewis in The Age of Innocence (1993)

NEWLAND.

Okay, so you’re engaged to sickly sweet May Welland, and then the Countess Olenska breezes into town and you realize what you’ve been missing all along. What do you do? Do you human-up and tell May that you’re in love with someone else? That you’ve realized there might actually be hot sex in your future? And passion? And intelligent, stimulating conversation?

The Age of Innocence (1993)

“What? It’s not like I am a self-actualized human being!”

Nope. You try to talk the countess OUT of getting divorced, and rush your own wedding, because god forbid you get in touch with your own fucking desires.

Let’s not even get INTO your inability to either leave your wife, OR suck it up, accept the choice you’ve made, and leave the Countess Olenska alone. I know it’s the Victorian era and life is hard. I DON’T CARE RIGHT NOW.

The Age of Innocence (1993)

“I am literally incapable of living with my own decisions.”

 

Denys in Out of Africa

I’ve been wanting to sit down and do a thorough review on Out of Africa lately, especially after singing the praises of lead actress Meryl Streep and costume designer Milena Canonero. But the problem is, although it’s been probably 10-15 years since I’ve seen the film, what I remember is being annoyed at Denys (played by Robert Redford). My memory is fuzzy, but what I’ve basically got is Mr. Perfect shows up, is fabulous … but refuses to commit, and then, when Keren is finally done with his lack-of-commitment, he goes and DIES. Just so she can’t move the fuck on emotionally, but has to always remember him as a vibrant and handsome and blah blah blah.

Out of Africa (1985)

“Don’t actually expect me to SHOW UP honey!”

The commitment-phobic-ness pisses me off, but the DYING pisses me off more. How the fuck is she supposed to forget him when she has to be sad that he’s dead? I mean, bonus that he doesn’t get to run off and be happy with someone else, because that would take the cake. But now she’s going to have to wrestle with His Memory. Men.

Out of Africa

PFFFFFFF.

 

Mr. Bingley in Pride and Prejudice

Of course, there are NUMEROUS manchildren in Jane Austen’s works. And really, Willoughby is probably the Number One manchild, and deserves some ranting-about. But I’m going to bypass Mr. Obvious and move on to He Who Has Thus Far Skated Under the Radar: Bingley.

Oh Bingley. You’re cute, you’re sweet, you’re nice, you’re rich, and you meet a beautiful, sweet, nice girl, and you two fall in love. At first, things go well — you invite her over to hang, throw a ball so you two can lambada. But as soon as your sisters and your best friend start talking shit about your love, you fold like a moist towelette. You leave town, blank her when she comes to visit London, and basically forget all about her. Oh but wait, you haven’t forgotten her! You’re still in love! You’re just too spineless to ACTUALLY DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT. Oh noes! Sisters and best friend think she’s a gold digger! Welp, I guess I can’t make my own decisions or judgements!

Pride and Prejudice (1995)

“Howdy! I may seem all nice and stuff, but it’s only because I actually was born without a spine. Seriously. Ask my mom.”

So yeah, Bingley finally ponies up in the end and asks Jane to marry him… but only AFTER Mr. Darcy essentially gives him permission. Does Mr. Darcy have to sign a permission slip before you take a bowel movement, too?

 

Ross Poldark in Poldark

ROSS. POLDARK. YOU ARE IN CHARGE OF YOUR OWN LIFE. SO STOP ACTING LIKE A TWO-YEAR-OLD. Okay, so off to the wars you went, and when you got back, your True Wuv was engaged to your cousin … and she goes ahead and marries him. What do you do? Are you angry, as in, “I’m never seeing you again” angry? Do you ice her? Do you realize she sucks, and doesn’t get your greatness, so fuck her? Oh no. You HANG AROUND HOPING FOR CRUMBS OF HER ATTENTION.

Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark

“My hotness is literally a process of natural selection. It exists so that you don’t realize just what a dipshit I am.”

Okay, so this wouldn’t be so annoying if you were just on your own recognizance … if the only person this was affecting was you. But you have to go and MARRY SOMEONE who is in love with you, and who, honestly, you are in love with (although heaven forbid you ever admit it). Which, yay for moving on! Except, you continue to hang on the crumbs of attention that your ex may occasionally throw out, and while you do a decent job with your wife, the second your ex sneezes in your direction you’re off to hand her a hankie.

Poldark season 2

“I am incapable of realizing that I actually have a good thing here.”

Then, your child dies (sorry, that sucks), and you don’t want to have another. Instead of, I don’t know, figuring out alternative ways of having a good time, you still shag your wife and then get annoyed when she ends up pregnant. THAT IS HOW IT WORKS, TURD-BRAIN.

Poldark season 2 finale

“I may have grown up on a farm, but I don’t understand how reproduction works.”

And then, to take the cake, after you’ve HAD ANOTHER CHILD with your actual wife, you decide that since it’s all about you, you should rape your ex. Because, you know, it’s all about what the manbaby wants. Who cares about consent, or what your ex might want, or whether your wife might have any feelings about it.

 

Think my rant is missing an understanding of historical context? I don’t wanna hear about it! Got manchildren to complain about? Let’s get to it in the comments!

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About the author

Kendra

Website

Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

80 Responses

    • ekolint48

      Adding another pair! I just want to bitchslap that fool multiple times at points when watching!!

      Reply
  1. picasso Manu

    And this is why, as males goes, I went for the cat variety.
    I’m not delusional, so I know who’s boss in the house (hint: Meow) but he doesn’t interfere with my sewing (he “helps”) and does not care what I’m watching on TV.
    He huffs a bit when I rant about pin shortage and back lacing, but it doesn’t go further.

    Reply
  2. Nit-Picking Badger

    Fabulous post and nodding my head in agreement like one of those plastic dogs! Newline Archer! What a tiresome weasel! As much as I loved the gorgeous bustle dresses, I kept wanting to throw things at the TV as I watched ‘The Age of Innocence’. Look, you’re incredibly wealthy and privileged. Either run off to South America and start a button shop (or similar) with your Great Love or just stop moaning!
    And yes, Henry VIII needs such a slap. And the chip on his shoulder couldn’t be any larger. Also a man with no compunction in throwing loyal servants (like Cromwell) to the wolves.

    Reply
    • Maddie D

      Oh, I wanted to smack Henry in The Tudors from early on, when his secretary got thrown in the tower by Wolsey before going mad from the experience. Then the secretary Pace was never. mentioned. again, even thought the real guy survived the ordeal. (Ok, Pace was played by the delightful Matt Ryan, and I’m still not over what happened to Constantine)

      Reply
  3. Adina

    What about the Earl of Essex in anything about Elizabeth I?
    Whiny little bitch boy to the extreme.

    Reply
  4. Susan Pola Staples

    I love your post. Poor wittle men. Can’t think, can’t self-actualise, can’t realise that their partner/spouse is an intelligent woman with a spine. May Welling May be sweet but she’s got a spine and is more intelligent than Elena Olenska. And is tons better (okay I’m for both Katherine of Aragon & Anne Boleyn) than their exes.

    And adding Essex is sheer genius.

    But I want to add Frank Randall book version.

    Reply
  5. Kelly

    I was so pumped for the new poldark because it was a cool looking historical drama but I hadn’t read the books or seen the earlier version and after getting halfway through the season, I was like “wait, is this just gonna be about him mooning over the ex while married to the red head???” And so I looked up the plot and was like, yup that’s all it is for the whole dang series, except he also rapes the ex? And yet he is supposed to be a sympathetic character? I honestly don’t get it.

    Reply
      • Cristina

        Does he ever play a non man child? I recently finished watching the UK version of “being human” in which he plays a vampire abstaining from blood. His story arc is pretty interesting for a while and then it just goes super downhill super fast and by the end I kept repeating to myself that he really needed to die like “damn I don’t want to stop looking at you bc you’re super hot but dude your stupid ass needs to die”. This show is not really historical at all I know. But I do want to nominate practically every male vampire in a movie or tv show EVER. Manbabies the lot of em

        Reply
  6. Erin English Bailey

    I vote for stupid & creepy Mr. Rochester. Moody, manipulative, hung up on Jane’s plain appearance until he’s blind and needy. He’s a sexually harassing employer who locked his wife in the attic. What a romantic prize!

    Reply
    • karena333

      LOL re Rochester, in his defense he did love Jane from the first time he saw her and mostly only mentioned her size and fairy-like appearance (which he liked). On the negative, add his lying to Jane about wife and trying to MARRY her! And toying with Blanche Ingram merely to make Jane jealous! Ok, Blanche is a prime bitch but She didn’t deserve that! Also, add St.John Rivers. Jane should marry him basically because he wants a servant to take to India! Never could stand that asshole.

      Reply
    • Emma Bull

      Oh, gawd–THANK YOU. I’ve never understood why people talk about this novel as a great romance. Jane, honey, you let those bed curtains burn. His wife is more sane than she looks.

      Reply
    • Karen K.

      House of Mirth is my favorite! I was so disappointed in the movie version, it was such a snoozer.

      Reply
  7. Sam

    Add in all male characters from Turn, because that’s seriously what drives the entire show: man-child-y-ness and fuck-boy-er-y. I was trying to come up with a list, but no it’s literally all of them 😂

    Reply
    • Diana

      Historically speaking, I think Benedict Arnold really was a man child. There is no greater act of whining than to throw an entire country (that you lost your leg for!) under the bus because they didnt give you money and adulation- and then years later cheat on the smart and beautiful woman who helped you do it.

      Reply
  8. Susan Pola Staples

    Re your comments on Bingley in P&P, I would add if he has a spine, it’s a wet noodle. And Yes, Fitzwilliam Darcy has to give him written permission to go to the bathroom and wipe afterwards.

    Reply
  9. M

    About Bingley, he didn’t leave because Darcy and his sisters “talked shit” about Jane, he left because they convinced him she didn’t care about him, and he was also unaware that Jane came to London since his sisters and Darcy never told him.

    Bingley should have had checked for himself, but I don’t think it’s fair to put him in the same category as Henry VIII when the only thing he’s guilty of is backing off when he thought his advances were unwanted. He was only 22 after all, it’s understandable that he made some mistakes when it came to love and that he trusted his friend (who he had no idea had any ulterior motives, I believe he wouldn’t have trusted Darcy about Jane if he knew Darcy planned for him to marry Georgiana).

    Reply
  10. saucymarla

    So true! All of it – and I I’ve wanted to reach through the screen and CHOKE Poledark since the first episode (I didn’t see the earlier series).

    Reply
  11. Karen K.

    “Folded like a moist towelette” is the funniest thing I’ve read all day. SO MANY LOLZ in this post.

    Reply
  12. Charity

    OMG. Yes.

    Especially to the first one, but the rest all irritate me in varying degrees (actually, Ross Poldark the most. Like, dude, Demelza is the best thing in your century. GET OVER the pasty-faced drip from your past!).

    Reply
    • Susan Pola Staples

      If I were Demelza, I’d leave Ross, move in with Caroline while Dwight was at sea & start carving out a life for myself unencumbered by Ross the Twit or is he a berk? Besides Caroline might need help with the loveable adorable wonderful Horace.

      Also add George Warleggen to the manchild list.

      Reply
  13. Gillian Stapleton

    And, re. Bingley, Darcy says in his epic letter to Elizabeth, ‘I had often seen him in love before’. So if Bingley has a bit of a history of this, he doesn’t get taken too seriously by his friends and family.

    Reply
  14. Lady St. Columb

    Philip from “My Cousin Rachel”.

    However, to be completely honest, du Maurier did write the story after two heartbreaking/tortuous lesbian relationships she had had and so she remarked that she threw the women’s personalities together and created Rachel – the way the book ends is
    du Maurier’s act of emotional closure towards them.

    So I guess I could add “Maxim” from “Rebecca” to the list then.

    Reply
  15. Maryanne Cathro

    THIS!!I honestly thought I was a bit of an oddball hating Poldark and finding these men spineless and irritating. VINDICATION!!! Not QUITE a historical movie but my top “needs a pen in the eye” guy is wimpy writer guy from Moulin Rouge. He falls in love with a woman because she is hot to look at, idolises her, fails to notice the obvious signs of her illness, lets his own possessive jealousy override the greater good of the community when she is trying to save them all, jeopardises HER safety, then humiliates her in front of the whole theatre. And even then, she forgives him and reaches out, and he folds, still misses that she is dying, and then when she does he tortures himself forever over it just to be absolutely sure noone wins. I HATE HIM. I wish Satine had just given him a slap and said, “Go play in the road, dear, I’m busy” and be done with it.

    Reply
    • Susan Pola Staples

      But Santine was Marguerite from LA Dame aux Camillias. I always thought the tenor in the opera/Alfred or whatever his name was a jerk. Hey were living on the money the ill Marguerite earned as a courtesan. He didn’t notice her illness either.

      Reply
  16. Saraquill

    You name Newland Archer and I raise you an Ethan Frome. I don’t know if there are any movie adaptations, but he dithers in his romantic life in a similar way to NA.

    Reply
  17. Sarah F

    I feel there is a case to be made for Heathcliff. To be fair, I am also in the camp that views Wuthering Heights not as a romance, but as a dark character study of two sociopaths.
    Can you be a man-child and a sociopath?

    Reply
  18. Sharon

    I have always thought Wuthering Heights was dark and dangerous, but not in the good way. Two selfish people, the mother of all obsessions, unresolved sexual tension that could power Yorkshire. All that longing, unfulfilled desire and wasted emotion. Even when I was reading this at school I was seething and muttering, “just shag each other and get it over with”. And then she dies, no release of emotion, no touching, kissing NOTHING, just Heathcliffe being utterly vile to everybody for the rest of his life. That book would have been a whole shorter and happier if they had got it on and run away.
    And DON’T get me started on Edward and Wallis. It has always seemed patently obvious to me that he trapped her, she was pragmatic, she had a good time, got lots of lovely presents and was realistic about being replaced with a younger woman………..until he made it impossible for her to do what she intended to do all along…………leave.
    Both whiney, manipulative, bullying, self-pitying wussy men

    Reply
  19. Peacoclaur

    Mark Anthony in anything about Cleopatra – he’s always a useless drunk and a massive load. Cleo is the one who gets shit done. Besides, I’ve always preferred Caesar anyway.

    Reply
    • Teresa

      Oh absolutely. But Cleopatra had to do her best with the material she had to work with.
      Here’s classicist Peter Green’s take on Antony (in his excellent book, Alexander to Actium): “emotional vacillations, intellectual shallowness, and coarse excesses…a self-indulgent Roman, with his bull neck, Herculean vulgarities, and fits of mindless introspection.” Green suggests that Antony must have driven Cleopatra nearly insane. When I mentioned this opinion in a lecture, one of my students said earnestly, “But some women really like macho men!” The class got a good laugh out of that. Yes, if you were organizing a frat party, Antony would be your man…invading Armenia (a hare-brained stunt to begin with), eh, not so much.

      Reply
  20. Lady St. Columb

    And also, because I’m obsessed with anything history prior to 1930:

    The whole bally thing about Out of Africa and more to the point – Denys Finch-Hatton,
    is that the real story is far more entertaining than the fictitious one.

    Denys was a crazy playboy – in fact his whole regular crowd were known as the orgiastic “Muthaiga Country Club”. Not only did sleazy friend Hemingway remark on his exploits in his writing, but so did his lover – absolutely fantastic woman of the 20th century, Mail Courier/BUSH PILOT and Champion Horse Trainer, Beryl Markham.

    Therefore in short, I think in RL it was his forte to string several along in succession. But yes, Robert Redford’s portrayal – easy on the eyes but MAN CHILD.

    Reply
    • Peacoclaur

      Henry did not have syphllis. That’s a Victorian era myth. Catherine of Aragon died of cancer, Jane Seymour childbed fever and Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard were beheaded. Henry’s fertility is still cause for speculation but syphills was ruled out a long time ago

      Reply
    • MoHub

      I always wondered whether there was a problem carried on the Tudor Y chromosomes. With the exception Henry himself, his brother Arthur was sickly and died young, and all his male offspring—including Henry Fitzroy and Edward VI—had serious health problems. Henry’s daughters and sisters seemed to have fared much better.

      Of course back then, no one knew about X and Y chromosomes and the father’s role in determining the sex of the offspring.

      Reply
      • Charity

        There’s actually a book / glorified / expanded college thesis I read not long ago, speculating on Henry having the Kell antigen, specifically McLeod syndrome, and arguing that’s why he later underwent such a dramatic personality change (from a good natured young man to a bitter, murderous tyrant). It was a fascinating hypothesis, but undermined by Katharine of Aragon carrying their son to full term after losing their first child in a miscarraige. (Usually, after the first negative Kell pregnancy, every subsequent pregnancy miscarries.)

        Since almost every woman at court had multiple miscarriages / lost children, I’d rather think it had more to do with poor health / bad midwifing / their dreadful diet / the lifestyle than any kind of syndrome.

        Reply
  21. Nynke

    can I add Mr Selfridges to the list? really loves his wife and kids and thus shags every pretty lady he lays eyes on. When the wife seems to be going a bit in the same direction, but not really because she has a spine, he loses his shit.
    Not to mention all the whining he does when his family becomes victim of his own misbehaviour and gambling.

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      OMG he is terrible! One of the reasons I’ve only written briefly about the TV series is that, while I really enjoyed the storylines about the characters working in the dept. store, I could.not.stand the plots revolving around Selfridge himself. Such a wanker.

      Reply
  22. karena333

    Okay. Since we are adding literary manchildren we hate from movies, let me add my most hated: Michael Henchard from the Mayor of Casterbridge, who SELLS his wife and young child to an unknown fellow drunk in a bar just because he’s tired of her. Fortunately the new guy is much nicer than Henchard and she has a decent life (daughter dies, she has a new one she names the same) until she thinks he’s dead. At which time she returns to Henchard (she’s an idiot). He thinks daughter is his and treats her ok until wife dies; he finds out the truth and then treats her like shit. And this is a novel everyone raves about because it shows REMORSE. Yeah, remorse that you wasted time reading or watching it.

    Reply
    • Emily

      Edmund comes to his sense, though. Eventually. Tom is TOTAL idiot. And let’s not forget Henry Crawford, Biggest Manchild of ALLLLLLL.

      Reply
  23. MoHub

    I’d seriously add Vanity Fair‘s George Osborne near the top of the list, and I’m still waiting for a dramatization that is true to Thackeray—including a blonde Becky.

    Reply
  24. Sue

    Oh gosh, Austen books are a gold mine! There’s at least one in every story and usually more.

    Reply

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