Villains are essentially characters to dislike. They torment our beloved heroes and heroines, providing the cruel streak necessary to any story. Sometimes in the guise of an antagonist whilst at other times openly deceitful, they roam literature pages and cinema screens creating tension, chaos and quests for the protagonists we side with.
However, in some cases villains take on a star status and gain a loyal following for being good at being bad. Here are some notable villains. Please note there might be spoilers ahead.
Bellatrix Lestrange (Harry Potter)
A fan impersonates Bellatrix Lestrange. Photo credit: Eden, Janine and Jim/ Flickr
She killed cousin Sirius Black and niece Nymphadora Tonks in addition to torturing Frank and Alice Longbottom, Neville’s parents, into insanity. For this last crime she was sentenced to life imprisonment in the high security prison of Azkaban, from where she escaped during the 1996 mass break-out. A hater of Half-bloods and a dedicated Death Eater, she finally met her end fighting against an angry and anguished mother (Mrs Weasley) during the Battle of Hogwarts. The look of pure glee on her face at anything evil makes her as despicable as the Lord Voldemort himself, with whom, according to rumours, she was in love.
Thomas Barrow (Downton Abbey)
Thomas the footman is groomed to be a likeable and pitiable villain from the start of Season 1. Complete with a sidekick in the form of the surly O’Brien, he is intent on getting his desired work post as valet at whatever cost and whoever gets in the way will experience how mean he can be. Blackmarket food; hiding the dog; taking the snuff box and planting it to frame Mr Bates; cowardly in the war – he’s got all it takes to be the perfect baddie. Actor Robert James-Collier’s wonderful interpretation only serves to help along a character already set to take root in the mind forever. However, no one is all bad, and Thomas will more likely be remembered for saving Lady Edith from the fire, as well as for his patient and caring interactions with Master George.
Daniel Cleaver (Bridget Jones)
Two-timing, sweet-talking Daniel Cleaver not only causes Bridget Jones frustration and heartache but is also the catalyst of her breakup with Mark Darcy in the book version. Ever the charming jokester, he makes readers and audience fall in love with him for his quick wit and boyish charm, deciding producers to give him a big part in the script for Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (2004) despite appearing only sparingly in the corresponding book.
Rachel (My Cousin Rachel)
Did she, or did she not? This is the eternal question behind a story narrated by Philip Ashley, a character too biased and infatuated to ever make coherent assumptions about whether Rachel is a murderess after all. Author Daphne du Maurier builds a story around doubt, attraction and manipulation, as the supposed hero Philip falls for the ‘villainous’ Rachel, alternately battling his feelings and giving in to them. The very famous phrase, “She has done for me at last, Rachel my torment” places Rachel firmly among those villains that we believe are misunderstood.
Title character Rebecca is another strong woman in a book by Daphne du Maurier and probably her best-loved character. Still Mistress of Manderley even after her death, her presence imposing even though intangible, she dominates the story narrated by an unnamed persona who can’t help but feel intimidated by her husband’s deceased first wife. Who was Rebecca? Was she the ever-decisive gentle host of the mansion, the free spirit that couldn’t be tamed or, worse yet, a calculating woman who framed her husband before contemplating her own murder? As with My Cousin Rachel, we may never know.
Disney has over the years created memorable villains, some of whom, like Sleeping Beauty’s evil fairy in the spinoff Maleficent (2014), became stars in their own right. From The Little Mermaid’s Ursula, who filled the screen with her huge tentacled skirt, to Aladdin’s gaunt Jafar and Beauty and the Beast’s manly Gaston, all of Disney’s cartoon villains helped the tale along with a presence and gusto that only a master storyteller can achieve.
President Snow (The Hunger Games)
The white-haired President of Panem has a lot on his shoulders, including the innocent bloodshed of each year’s Hunger Games. He dominates the evil side of the story and personally threatens our hero Katniss Everdeen, yet without his strong character and atrocious ways there would be no Hunger Games series for us to follow. Add to this, even Katniss finds him less repulsive compared to the so-called ‘good’ President Alma Coin, head of the allies, who is, in my opinion, a worse villain for believing she is in the right.