For many, Timothy Dalton was the lamest James Bond ever, and that's all they know about him. Which is a shame (and a truth—he was the lamest James Bond ever! Rebuttals in comments, please) because Dalton is so much more than a poor marketing idea in a tux.
In one of his first films, Lion In Winter, Dalton plays King Phillip II of France. He and Richard (that's the guy who became Richard the Lion-Hearted to you) are negotiating so Richard can get his father's throne after he dies (and that's Henry II, the guy who offed Thomas Becket and kept his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, imprisoned for 15 years after she encouraged their children to rise up against him).
Anthony Hopkins—a young Anthony Hopkins—plays Richard with open-eyed longing, seemingly seduced by Dalton's piercing green stare and reminders of their past (it has all but been confirmed by recent history scholars that Richard was homosexual—hence his ability to leave his wife, Berengaria, at home for years while he was off at the battlefront with the boys). He's got no defense against Phillip, who keeps asking, “And what else?” when Richard makes his list of demands. We know what he's asking, and we know Richard is going to get burned.
Oh, and when Dalton scornfully rejects Richard's offer of love? He's brilliant, knowing he is stunningly gorgeous, a king, a king who has the power to make this prince love him—and he rejects it in as brutally demeaning a fashion as he can.
Just a bit later, Dalton plays Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, and plays it with all the feral, fervent passion the anti-hero requires. This version of Wuthering Heights has some groan-inducing moments (that soundtrack music? Her hairstyle?), but Dalton plays the part perfectly, capturing all that is “mad, bad and dangerous to know” about Bronte's tortured moor-soul.
Later, Dalton tackles another Bronte girl's hero, this time Rochester in Jane Eyre. And while it's laughable that that Rochester would ask Jane if she thought he was ugly, he brings the same autocratic, domineering authority to this part as he did to King Phillip—both men who are accustomed to being obeyed, by virtue of their position as well (in Dalton's case) as their beauty.
And while it's easy to dismiss Dalton because he's so goddamned gorgeous, it's not fair to him; close your eyes during his line-readings and see if he doesn't stand up to his fellow alums from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, folks like Peter O'Toole, Ralph Fiennes, and Derek Jacobi. His beauty can let you forget just how talented he is.
In recent years, Dalton has graduated to playing the older guy who used to be hot, as in The Tourist or as the top TimeLord in the last incarnation of Doctor Who.
And old or not, some of us might still pause if he
asked demanded, a la Heathcliff, “Come away with me.”
Megan Frampton is the Community Manager, Romance, for the HeroesandHeartbreakers site. She lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her husband and son, and loathes lima beans.