Film & TV

Richard Armitage: His top 10 performances

If you like your dashing anti-heroes and your voices as deep as a balrog's pocket, then you'll love Richard Armitage. Known for his huge range of work, he brings an unrivalled intensity to all he does, whether on screen, on stage or on the microphone.

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Richard Armitage: His top 10 performances
  • Richard Armitage is an actor with huge range, popular with both male and female viewers across the globe
  • Richard Armitage began in small-scale TV and theatre, and went on to star in North and South and Robin Hood
  • His biggest role to date was as Thorin in The Hobbit films, including The Battle of the Five Armies
  • Known for booming baritone and powerful presence, Richard Armitage will no doubt continue to be a major star

Richard Armitage: FAQs

  • What is Richard Armitage's background?

    Long before he conquered British television, Richard Crispin Armitage went to Pattison College, Coventry. After getting his Equity card (earned from a stint in a Budapest circus) and graduating from LAMDA, Armitage began by taking jobs in numerous TV commercials and British TV productions before getting small roles in films such as The Phantom Menace. He became a television star thanks to North and South, followed soon after by his unforgettable turn in Robin Hood.
  • What is Richard Armitage best known for?

    Generally, Richard Armitage is best known for playing dark roles, more often than not playing complicated men (or dwarves). His best-known role was Thorin in Peter Jackson's The Hobbit trilogy (An Unexpected Journey, The Desolation of Smaug and The Battle of the Five Armies), but he is widely known for a number of other performances, including Guy of Gisborne in Robin Hood. He has also been seen on stage in both serious and musical theatre.

  • What's Richard Armitage doing now?

    With no sequel to The Battle of the Five Armies coming any time soon (and with Thorin facing a few availability difficulties), Richard Armitage has been busy with other things, showing no signs of slowing down. He voices Monty the Rhino in The Adventures of Sleepy the Magical Bear, and Richard Armitage will also be seen in a TV adaptation of David Copperfield. The Dickensian one. Not the big bucks US magician. We think.

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Dark, brooding good looks. Powerful presence. Was part of a large gang of tetchy dwarves. The chances are, with that description, you're thinking of one of two men. (OK, three if your memory goes back to David Rappaport.) One of them was famous for getting sweaty with a scythe. The other is favourite actor Richard Armitage.

The Leicester-born LAMDA graduate, son of engineer John Armitage and secretary Margaret, has been turning heads since he started out in musical theatre back in the late 1980s. 

Since then, he's amassed a career portfolio that contains some unforgettable performances in outstanding roles, plus some standard CV-stuffing gigs (Marple - check, Inspector Lynley - of course). There are also one or two really quite surprising ones. And, of course, his shattering performance in The Battle of the Five Armies. But we'll come to that.

We'll now take a trip through his best appearances on stage and screen. Incidentally, if you're unfamiliar with his work, it’s never too late to start, so follow the links in each piece for more info. Right, on with the show.

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1. The Crucible - John Proctor

Yes, this may come as a surprise to some of you, expecting to see a certain swords and sorcery saga being cited at the top. For us, though, Richard Armitage's best performance, hands down, was as the righteous but flawed and (spoiler alert) ultimately doomed farmer in Arthur Miller's The Crucible, in the 2014 Old Vic Theatre production.

As we'll see, Richard Armitage is the kind of actor who can shine in a number of milieus, and he absolutely dazzles in his theatre work. Anyone who saw The Old Vic 24-hour plays celebrity gala will know what Richard Armitage brings to the stage, so you'll understand why we rate his work in The Crucible so highly.

The play is a puritanical drama that is famously an allegory for the McCarthyist witch hunts that gripped the US in the 1950s. (Incidentally, it's not known how many disgruntled snooker fans have left the theatre halfway through when it became clear that they had made a significant error.)

The theatre production had a stripped-back and supremely stark arena, against which the towering themes of integrity and corruption were played out in front of an enraptured audience, not just in the house but in cinemas around the world, courtesy of the big screen outing it received shortly after the play's run.

What sets actor Richard Armitage apart is his incredible voice and unbridled passion, and he uses both to dominate moments of high drama in the play. Armitage nails Proctor's desperate attempts to right the snowballing wrongs of the situation, and he brings an injured pride to the role, like a wounded wolf fighting an unwinnable battle against his hunters. 

Well worth checking it out, on Digital Theatre.

2. The Hobbit - Thorin Oakenshield

Right, the fantasy fans will be thinking - now you're talking. Peter Jackson's adaptation of Tolkien's scene-setter for The Lord of The Rings tends to split audiences. 

There are some for whom the director can simply do no wrong. (Wonder how many of them have seen The Lovely Bones.) Others, however, bemoan the wisdom behind stretching a 304-page children's book out into around 10 hours of film trilogy.

What pretty much everybody agrees on, however, is the great cast that was deployed in the film trilogy. 

Returning magic from Ian McKellen and Andy Serkis, perfect amounts of bemusement from Martin Freeman, and, perhaps most strikingly of all, absolutely bang-on casting with Armitage playing the self-important, stubborn, uber-regal dwarf king Thorin Oakenshield, in particular in The Battle of the Five Armies.

Once again, Armitage's booming tones are well used here. (It's pretty much a must that his roles will demand a certain amount of deep, sonorous declaiming at some point. He's not expected to be cast in the Barry Gibb Story.) Thorin is a chap whose physical being is at odds with his presence, and Armitage absolutely nails his room-dominating abilities with ease. 

He also manages to retain our support when he starts being difficult as the plot develops. Thorin has issues, and Armitage manages to make us sympathise as he battles with himself as much as anyone else in The Battle of the Five Armies.

There are some pretty outstanding actors in that dwarf gang - Ken Stott, James Nesbitt and the already alluded-to Aidan Turner - but Armitage dominates like a giant, and that's how Thorin would want it.

3. Berlin Station - Daniel Miller

Now we move on to a role in a drama that was much-loved by its fans but perhaps didn't get the wide exposure it deserved. Berlin Station is a spy drama set in the espionage-stuffed environs of the German capital. 

Armitage plays Daniel Miller, a CIA operative charged with finding and plugging the leaks in the agency station, which is more like a colander than a secure national security facility.

Armitage brings the usual brooding magnetism, coupled with an aptitude for Bond-style chases and punch-ups that he pulls off with a winning authenticity. Probably - in fact definitely - too old now to be considered as the next 007, but for a time, he could have been a really quite plausible choice.

4. Robin Hood - Guy of Gisborne

Who remembers the great days of Robin of Sherwood, with Michael Praed and an impossibly young Ray Winstone battling their enthusiastic but utterly unconvincing way through wobbly walled castles and across landscapes featuring the distinct outlines of Ford Fiestas driving across the horizon? 

Ok it wasn’t a classic TV show, but it was enjoyable and held to be great stuff by the quality-starved audiences of the 1980s. However, the BBC version that came along in 2006 knocked it into a cocked befeathered hat.

The tale of Robin Hood, the outlaw with a heart of gold, is of course massively well-known, as is the villainy of his arch-enemy The Sheriff of Nottingham. Richard Armitage however, plays not this archetype of evil but the even more scheming Guy of Gisborne, a character whose dastardliness is only matched by his propensity for utter failure. 

The demonic nature of this anti-hero is well caught by Armitage, as is his ever-growing frustration at the ability of Robin Hood to foil his every fiendish plan.

5. Wolverine - Logan

Huh? Surely that's Hugh Jackman. Well, yes and no. Hugh Jackman may have made the role his own on the big screen in countless X-Men appearances, but Richard Armitage owns it when it comes to audio performances.

That sonic boom of his does the business with the Wolverine podcasts, so much so that some think he is the definitive Logan voice. Big claims. But they have a point. Richard Armitage gives it full-on supersound, using every decibel of the voice that's seen him propelled to one starring role after another.

6. The Ted Hughes Letters - Ted Hughes

That voice of Richard Armitage was put to best use again in this TV production, taking the letters of the famed poet and having them read out in those resonant tones. 

Richard Armitage managed a creditable attempt at Hughes' Yorkshire accent and infused the powerful words of the poet laureate with just the right mix of power and sensitivity. The production continues to enchant in its direct simplicity and is a great example of how good British television can be.

7. North and South - John Thornton

No, not the US Civil War drama. This is the Elizabeth Gaskell tale of merciless profiteering at the expense of the downtrodden folk working in those infamous mills of northern England. John Thornton is one of the worst of those ruthless entrepreneurs at the start of the saga, but his character changes to show us a more vulnerable aspect as the story develops.

Richard Armitage's ascension to household name status pretty much started here, this being his first major role on TV, and he gained stacks of plaudits for his nuanced evocation of a complicated man, another dashing anti-hero who turns out to be something completely different by tale's end.

8. Strike Back - John Porter

Another staple of British television has been the military drama, often dealing with the derring-do of some special force sector or other. Sky UK's Strike Back is one such example, dealing with the exploits of Section 20, a British military intelligence unit, and based on the works of Chris Ryan.

Famous for its gritty depiction of lives spent at risk in action all over the world, this British television hit was also known for some great casting, including Robson Greene playing a pretty convincing Lt Col and, of course, Richard Armitage, playing SAS operative John Porter. This was the lead role in season one, but Richard Armitage left as season two started in order to film An Unexpected Journey.

Again, Richard Armitage showed his ability to do action, but he also brought a humanity to the highly-trained mayhem machine John Porter.

9. Brain on Fire - Tom Cahalan

No, it's not a huge role, but Richard Armitage brings the usual screen-grabbing presence in Brain on Fire, an adaptation of the autobiographical account of a New York writer experiencing major mental and personality problems. At first, her situation baffles the psychiatric community, but as symptoms worsen, she finds solace in the care of her father, played by Armitage.

As the troubled and mystified Tom Cahalan, Richard Armitage brings a lot to the role, infusing the character with believability and making us feel the agony that he and his family are going through.

10. Pilgrimage - Raymond de Merville

For an actor who has made his name playing complicated men, Richard Armitage must have been cock-a-hoop to get this role, in the rather good Pilgrimage (also starring Spidey himself, Tom Holland). 

Raymond de Merville is a count with a past, to say the least. As a crusader, he was guilty of all manner of wrongdoings, and he sees the chance of redemption coming his way in the shape of being asked to guard a party of medieval monks on their pilgrimage across bandit-strewn lands, trying to take a monastery's holiest relic all the way from Ireland to Rome.

Dashing anti-heroes are Armitage's speciality, but he goes all out with the playing dark this time, as he makes us feel that Count De Merville was capable of every one of his past misdeeds.

An actor with serious (and not so serious) range

Actor Richard Armitage's ascension to popular performer of stage, screen and radio has seen all kinds of roles being played, and he has been able to leave a mark wherever he's gone.

We must make mention of one of his most memorable roles: Geraldine's eventual husband in the final episodes of The Vicar of Dibley. Fabulous comic ability - who knew? 

It's in such roles that Richard Armitage has conquered British television and gone on to score in roles across the world, in films and musical theatre. He has continued as a television star, however, and is still doing voiceover work on numerous TV commercials.

What's next for Richard Armitage? Up for release soon is Canadian film The Boy in the Woods, which we eagerly look forward to. After a career full of many a star-making turn, it's tricky to see him taking a foot wrong any time soon.

Image Credit: Karolina Grabowska at Pexels

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