It’s only been a month since I’ve first seen the BBC miniseries Sparkhouse, courtesy of some wonderful people on Youtube who have posted all the episodes online, and my first viewing left me confused. Andrew Lawton’s character was such a whiny coward that I was tempted to fast forward past many of his scenes just to get to the parts where Richard Armitage’s character John Standring dominated the screen.
My first viewing was a bit haphazard, I admit. I missed a few segments and probably never really saw the entire thing from beginning to end, and proceeded to the conclusion that Andrew was a complete ass. How could he be married and still want Carol at the same time? How could he be so selfish as to ruin Carol and John’s big day by announcing that Lisa was Carol’s daughter and that he was the father. And really, the biggest question of all, how could he leave her at the altar after he’d promised her that they’d get married?
By the third viewing, my point of view started to shift a bit. By the fourth viewing, it completely shifted.
Andrew, I’ve discovered, was a gentleman through and through. Albeit a cowardly gentleman, but a gentleman just the same – at least in his mind.
Now before you stone me, hear me out.
He knew Carol since they were little children, and though he never noticed that she was pregnant at twelve (only that she wasn’t allowed out of the house to play with him that one summer), they were both devoted to each other like best friends usually are. So they loved each other and snogged like crazy up in that ruined farmhouse on stormy nights, but as he told Becky, his wife, when she was about to break the news about Lisa’s parentage on Carol and John’s wedding day, he and Carol never had sex because “she couldn’t.” Not after what her father had done to her.
Now, any man who actually respects a woman’s choice to say no to something she’s not comfortable doing for whatever reason – I’m on my period. I don’t like you that way. I’m feeling a bit bloated. I’ve got a headache. My father raped me when I was twelve and I got pregnant so no, no sex at all because it grosses me out – is, in my book, a saint. And Andrew respected her decision for years, it seems.
Who knows? Did he feel the urge at sixteen? Seventeen? Eighteen? And yet he never pushed her all that time. He respected her decision to say no. He loved her so much to put his own needs aside to make sure she was alright.
When he learns that Carol is marrying John for his money so that she can fix up the farm and avoid losing tenancy, he suggests helping her out by getting a loan. He is distressed to learn that she will be having sex with John, knowing just how she feels about sex. Remember that they’ve never had sex together, ever. He respected her decision then when they were teen-agers, and believe me, with hormones raging, that must have meant a LOT of self-control. No wonder he told John that bit about making Carol into a prostitute and “what does that make you?”
And it’s actually a valid question.
When you trade money (whether it’s for lease payments, repairs to the farm, or a pair of Stuart Weitzman shoes) for sex, partnership, the prospect of having kids (though “not right away, but eventually”) or being with someone you-honestly-don’t-really-care-for-in-that-way-other-than-what-he-brings-to-the-table, it’s actually called…wait for it…prostitution.
And Andrew was actually right.
At The Fleece a few years earlier, when Carol asks John if he’d like to “shag,” he says yes, albeit a bit in shock, though this was their first “date”. If anyone ever asked me if I wanted to shag him on the first date while his ex-girlfriend frolicked about in the dance floor close by, no matter how much I liked him, I’d probably look around and make sure I wasn’t being punked. Sure, given a few glasses of wine or bottles of beer, I would have done it, but it wouldn’t have been something I’d base a long-term relationship on.
Now I know John does not know anything about the abuse Carol’s father had inflicted on her, but his immediate “yes” to her ‘shag’ question puts his own character into question.
The one scene that finally put Andrew Lawton in a much better light (at least to me, at this moment) than John Standring was the scene outside the registry office in Hallifax, where Andrew tells Carol that Lisa knew who her real mother was, for she’d seen her birth certificate, and that Lisa had also figured out that he, Andrew, was her father. This was something he actually told Becky earlier that Lisa would be better off believing this fabrication rather than the truth that her own grandfather, Richard Bolton, was her real father. Ewww…
Andrew didn’t have to do what he did, but probably remembering the horror he had felt when he first learned that Lisa was Carol’s daughter by none other than her father (and not being able to do anything about it without having Carol and Lisa end up in foster homes and the family losing the farm) prompted him to spare Lisa the same torrent of guilt and shame Carol would have felt then. It was bad enough for Carol to have gone through such hell. Another thing entirely to have the innocent daughter go through such knowledge as well.
And knowing that from that time onwards, Carol would be sleeping with a man she did not love for Lisa’s sake and so they could have a home, probably left Andrew so impotent, so useless that he couldn’t even live with himself if he couldn’t extricate her from the mess she’d buried herself under.
And when she told him to go away after he begged her to run away with him, it was the look in Carol’s eyes that told him she’d accepted her fate. She’d married someone she didn’t love to save the farm and give her daughter a home. She had made her choice, no matter how awful. It’s one thing to be married to a man you know will do the right thing and not cut corners, it’s another to actually love the man…
I think that Andrew felt responsible for the path that Carol found herself in. When he stood her up at the registry office five years earlier to please his parents (or maybe because he was just too weak and too young to stand up to them – come to think of it, he’d always lived a privileged existence, never having to work, and if his parents told him they’d stop supporting him, it’s enough to give one pause, really), that decision led her to this path now – a path that meant she agreed to marry someone else to be able to live a life that would be more dignified than the one she’d had in Leeds. It gave her her home back, though the circumstances were less than ideal.
And all this, the result of that one moment of weakness and cowardice on his part. A decision he decides to make up for by begging Carol to move away with him. But it’s a case of too little too late, an unfortunate conclusion he reaches to that prompts him to do what he does that same night.
So please forgive me if this post isn’t about John Standring and how wonderful he was for being there for Carol, for giving her what she needed when Andrew could not. But just as circumstances beyond their control caused Catherine and Heathcliffe to be apart in Wuthering Heights, so it is with Carol and Andrew in Sparkhouse.
One act of cowardice on Andrew’s part set the stage for Carol’s life to unfold the way it did, and from the time they reunited five years later, nothing Andrew could do could ever undo the first stone he had cast upon the water.
Yet for all his childhood cowardice, Andrew’s final act of taking the responsibility of being known as Lisa’s father, leaving the truth to be known only by another person other than himself – Carol – at least gives Lisa hope for a better life without guilt or shame.
And that, to me, makes him a true gentleman and a bittersweet hero to this tragic tale of doomed love.
Addendum: Clearly I’ve had way too much time on my hands to write all this when I should be sleeping. I actually LOVE John Standring’s character so his character study should be coming up soon, and I promise I’ll be nice. Just need a few more viewings before I do pen it!
AI hope you enjoyed this little character study, and I would love to hear your thoughts!