4YE’s 2017 Year In Review: Dan Stevens Had A “Legion”-dary Year

Credit: Getty Images

Sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun.

Hello folks and welcome to the end of the year. You’ve eaten ham, you’re tired of family, you’re looking for a bit of escape from reality for a moment. Well, look no further, 4YE has you covered. I love these end of the year things. They’re so much fun, and it’s always quite nice to look back at the entertainment industry and how it’s shaped things as the months have passed.

My little corner of the universe happened to revolve around Dan Stevens this year.

Let’s talk about Dan for a moment because he’s brilliant, and if you haven’t been following his career, you have no idea what you’re missing out on. (Also, haters to the left. I still maintain that leaving Downton Abbey on Christmas in 2012 was the absolute best thing he’s done in his career. So, seriously, stop making him have to apologize. The poor guy.)

While Dan came into our lives as the affable and adorable Matthew Crawley, he did break hearts in 2012 when he died as a result of a motor vehicle accident. What made matters worse was his wife, Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery) had just delivered their beautiful baby boy, George. Despite all of this, Dan’s star has really been on the rise, and this year has delivered a stellar repertoire of projects that make me excited for the years to come.

So, let’s look back on this Legion-dary year Dan has had starting with, of course, Legion. My love for Legion knows no bounds. I grew up absolutely adoring the X-Men series of films, and with each new iteration, I fall even more in love with them. There’s something incredibly interesting and uplifting about these ragtag group of misfits who save the world time after time. However, Legion is something inherently different than the usual X-Men affair. For one, ‘mutant’ is barely a word that’s said in the show. I only remember one big, memorable moment where ‘mutant’ was used to mean anything poignant. For the Noah Hawley helmed show, David Haller is something more than a mutant, and Dan portrays him with heartfelt finesse.

Credit: Marvel/FX

There could’ve been many different ways that David Haller, aka Legion in the Marvel Comics, could’ve been written and portrayed. Hawley, the brainchild behind Fargo, opted to bring David’s emotional and mental health journey to the forefront instead of making David a homicidal, all-powerful maniac. Yes, in a sense, Legion is an origin story but the show does something amazing, and it all stems from Dan’s powerful, emotional, and beautiful acting.

David, in this iteration of the classic Marvel comic, isn’t a villain. At least, not yet. We still have season 2 to delve into David’s nuances a little bit more, but there is something so liberating in seeing a canon evil character be turned so masterfully into a man with feelings and emotions, and Dan acts them to a perfection that I’m not even completely sure I can put into words. He is magnificent to the point of heartbreak. There is such a sadness in Dan’s eyes that he uses to the best of his abilities, and it pays off. Dan has such a mastery in acting with his eyes that was poorly overlooked in Downton Abbey but here, it’s on full display with close-ups of Dan’s eyes often the centerpiece of certain scenes.

Because of his mastery in showing a depth of emotion in his eyes, it’s no surprise that Dan was tapped to play the Beast in Disney’s live-action version of Beauty and the Beast. Yes, the announcement that he was to play the Beast came a few years before the movie was released but I’m not sure anyone expected the reaction the movie garnered on its release. To date, it’s the second highest grossing Disney film this year. I have no doubt that the song Dan sang in the film will be nominated for an Oscar, and I’m not so secretly hoping that he and Josh Groban will sing the song together when the telecast is aired because Dan killed that song. It was (and is) such a sweeping and epic song, and it fit Dan’s perfect baritone rather well despite Dan having no formal training prior to filming.

Credit: Disney

Despite that, there’s no denying that Dan embodied the Beast so well. He filmed the movie in a 40-pound gray muscle suit and performed the iconic waltz with such finesse that it’s hard to imagine anyone else in that role. Not to mention his chemistry with Emma Watson was such a high point for me while watching the film. What I most enjoyed about Dan in Beauty and the Beast was his attention to detail. While the animated film is slightly superior in a few ways, the Beast was just a beast. Dan gives such a high caliber performance that it’s easy to see the human behind all the fur and horns. The battle between the Beast and Gaston on the parapets of the castle yielded one of the best changes between the animated version and the live action version. The Beast, while holding onto Gaston, tells him very plainly that he is not a beast. It sent shivers down my spine. It was the single most powerful piece of acting I’ve seen this year, and it was a from a Disney movie. That hardly ever happens.

Credit: Shout! Factory

Topping off a stellar year was The Ticket. You can read my review of the film here. I didn’t much like the writing but Dan was so breathtakingly beautiful and tortured with his performance of James Harvey that you could feel the hurt and see the demons so clearly in his psyche. There is one particular scene in The Ticket that physically aches to watch, but it’s so raw and wonderfully acted that I go back to that scene as a master class of director Ido Fluk understanding Dan’s talent and allowing him to just fling himself off the deep end. It’s a scene of such power that I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall during filming just to watch Dan give the second most powerful piece of acting I’ve seen this year. Some actors don’t understand the physicality of acting, and The Ticket showcases Dan’s ability to get physical in the films he performs in. There’s no doubt in my mind that that scene, as I’ve dubbed it, was a physically and emotionally tiring day on set.

Of course, there have been other examples of Dan Stevens’ wonderful year but I haven’t been able to see them yet. The Man Who Invented Christmas and Marshall, sadly, never made it to my theatre for me to go see but I have seen gifs from Marshall, and it’s obvious that Dan revels in the vastly different role he portrays in the biopic. I can’t say I’ve ever seen a British man play a smarmy, Southern bigot lawyer with such swagger. Granted, I still have to see Marshall, but I have no doubt that Dan kills it.

I have a friend, Jenn, who was lucky enough to see The Man Who Invented Christmas in cinema, I had her put into words what made the film so lovely for her. Here’s what she said:

As Charles Dickens in The Man Who Invented Christmas, Stevens captured with charm, and at times heartbreak, the great highs and desperate lows that followed Dickens in his creative life. Facing debts and the memories of his times spent in a workhouse–the result of his father’s own failure to manage debts–he must write a story in six weeks. Not only that but a story that will sell. Against the backdrop of the doubt of his publishers and peers and his own inability to find the words to put to paper, Dickens slowly becomes at first inspired and then tormented by the characters of A Christmas Carol. At a time in history when Christmas was not celebrated as it is now, the idea of a Christmas story was borderline ridiculous but Stevens captures Dickens’ determination to craft something that will brighten and inspire people. In turn, his performance is quiet, frustrated, inspired, angry, lost, broken, hopeless, and, yet, entirely full of hope. Stevens plays beautifully against the playful wickedness of Christopher Plummer’s Scrooge, a character rebelling against and then, in time, enlightened by his author. In The Man Who Invented Christmas, Stevens captures a portrait of the creative process of one of the most well-known authors in the world, and in the tiny moments that he is so masterful at showing, captures the very personal and private torment that was the making of Dickens’ art.

What’s next, some may ask? He’s played a blind man, a lawyer, the Beast, Prince Adam, Charles Dickens, and David Haller this year. Surely nothing could top this year but next year seems to be the year of Dan as well. Permission comes out on Valentine’s Day. Legion should air sometime in February. Plus, he and Michael Sheen have a Netflix movie airing sometime next year named Apostle. One thing’s for certain, when Dan is involved, there is no shortage of variety. Here’s to hoping he still has many more years entertaining us ahead of him. I know one thing’s for certain: I’ll be watching every little thing he does because as this year has proven, Dan Stevens is a force to be reckoned with.

Shelby Arnold
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