Dean Owen

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Why do we love British Villains?


Who can forget Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber in Die Hard or Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan Noonien Singh in Star Trek Into Darkness?

Ever since the 1950’s, British actors have captivated us with their onscreen performances.

Last year saw the passing of arguably the father of British villains, Sir Christopher Lee, an actor with close to 55 years of playing villains and monsters, from Frankenstein’s monster and Count Dracula, to the immensely memorable Francisco Scaramanga in “The Man with the Golden Gun” to more recent roles as Saruman and Count Dooku.

No doubt that the talk of the town this year will be the latest Brit to hit the small screen as a criminal mastermind, the immensely talented and hugely affable Hugh Laurie.

An unlikely villain, Laurie has been delighting audiences since the early 80’s with largely comedic roles (Black Adder/Fry and Laurie/Jeeves and Wooster), and a host of voiceover parts (Stuart Little/Monsters vs Aliens/Arthur Christmas). Across the pond, Laurie played Dr. Gregory House in 176 episodes of House M.D. earning him a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series in 2006.

Whilst many British actors traversed to the silver screen following extensive careers at The Royal Shakespeare Company – Laurence Olivier, Venessa Redgrave, Ian Holm, Ben Kingsley, Judi Dence, Ian McKellen to name a few, Laurie found acting through an amateur theatrical club in Cambridge, the Cambridge University Footlights Dramatic Club, whose alumni includes equally talented comedic and dramatic legends, Peter Cook, Eric Idle, Tim Brooke-Taylor, Emma Thompson and his partner in crime, Stephen Fry.

In what is sure to be a massive hit with audiences and critics worldwide, Hugh Laurie faces off with Tom Hiddleston (Loki from “Thor”) in UK’s Ink Factory’s “The Night Manager” which hits U.S. TV screens this month.

Hiddleston (whom I predict will be the next Bond) plays good guy and ex-British soldier Jonathan Pine, a night manager at a hotel in Cairo ensnared in a marvelous tale of espionage, arms dealing, and classic MI6 folly. The mini-series is adapted from the 1993 John le Carré novel. Indeed le Carré makes an albeit short cameo appearance in episode 4 of this 7 part miniseries. Needless to say, the casting is brilliant with memorable performances from Olivia Coleman, Tom Hollander, and the captivating Elizabeth Debicki (The Man from U.N.C.L.E).

Laurie encompasses all that we expect from an onscreen villain, but without disclosing more, if there was one series to watch this year, it is “The Night Manager”. The series has just finished airing in the UK and Spain, and premiers in the U.S. on AMC starting 19th April, and trust me, this is one show that will hook you from the very first few scenes. But with just 7 episodes, and more recently, confirmation from some of the actors that there will be no second season, the series is not going to take over your lives.

So what is it that makes the Brits so good at portraying our favourite villains? Yes we have seen brilliant performance emerge from other nationalities (especially as Bond villains), and possibly one of the greatest ever villainous scenes was masterfully played by Austrian, Christoph Waltz as Col. Hans Landa in the opening scene of Inglourious Basterds –

Shosanna!”

The villains that capture our attention are not the psychotic serial killers, but usually fall into the category of “criminal mastermind”.  Whilst we may not relate to their ideologies, they captivate us with their brilliant minds, and their ability to always be one step ahead in what is, essentially, a game of chess. Many of the villains we love, portray their characters as highly articulate, eloquent, charming, and extremely intelligent. Good looks are optional, but onscreen charisma and stage presence is a must.

Now clearly the British do not hold a monopoly on either charm or intelligence, so inevitably it is the perception that a British English accent implies a high level of education, a worldly sophistication, and a dose of naughty, which I assume is the trait in the villains we all love.  But in essence, a villain is a caricature with all mannerisms accentuated. They are the cartoon villains we grew up with and loved.  And let’s face it; the British are excellent at exaggerated mannerisms.

British Villains Jaguar Commercial

Do share below your favorite villains.


Dean Owen is the Co-Founder of Quimojo, a revolutionary new concept in Global Campus Recruitment.

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