In our fast-paced, often violent and sometimes cynical world, we should remember that LOVE makes the world go ‘round. Take a moment and you’ll see that love is everywhere, from the cute couple walking down the street holding hands, to the long-married husband and wife walking, arm and arm, into the movie theater ahead of you, to the preteens giggling their way through their latest puppy love crush. What better way to get in the mood for love than by exploring the all-time most swoon worthy scenes from British films and television shows (with one or two American-made films starring British actors and actresses slipped in). I considered movies and shows from the late 20th and early 21st centuries, which is why you won’t find scenes with Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon on this list. One more note: Major spoilers ahead!
THE VICAR OF DIBLEY
I won’t hide the fact that I am among the millions of women who adore British actor Richard Armitage. But it’s not his face or body I swoon over (although both are quite lovely) but rather his acting chops, which are superb. Whether he is portraying spy Lucas North (MI-5), villainous Guy of Gisborne (Robin Hood) or King of the Dwarves Thorin Oakenshield (The Hobbit), this man can act! Most of the roles in his filmography tend toward serious drama so I was happily surprised to discover him on a good, old-fashioned sitcom, appearing opposite Dawn French in the final two episodes of The Vicar of Dibley (“The Handsome Stranger” and “The Vicar in White”) portraying her heartthrob and future husband Harry Kennedy. They meet-cute, run into each other in the village and even go on a first date. But then comes the scene (at 28:22 of “The Handsome Stranger”) when Harry puts on his accountant’s hat and tells Geraldine that she is perilously close to falling into serious debt. That’s the ruse he uses to wrest a kiss from her. The scene is funny and sweet, well-acted by French and Armitage and, even though it’s hilarious, it’s also lovely and romantic. (Available on Amazon Streaming and Netflix DVD)
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
I could select any of the scenes between young lovers Hero (Kate Beckinsale) and Claudio (Robert Sean Leonard) or those showcasing the sexy and witty discourse between Beatrice (Emma Thompson) and Benedick (Kenneth Branagh)…but I didn’t. It’s true, those dual romances which serve as the foundation for this exceptional translation of Shakespeare’s comedy are wonderful. But it’s the opening sequence that makes me swoon. In a phenomenal feat of filmmaking excellence, Branagh directs this sequence with much aplomb. After being lulled by the gentle sound of Emma Thompson reciting the Bard’s opening lines, we are suddenly swooped up into a thunderous roar of action. Whether it’s the beautiful women running downhill in slow motion or Don Pedro (Denzel Washington) and his comrades galloping on horseback to Messina, we can’t help getting caught up in the activity and beauty of this nine-minute sequence. It is a stunning bit of directing combined with exceptional cinematography (Roger Lanser), editing (Andrew Marcus) and music (Patrick Doyle). It’s definitely swoon worthy. (Available on Amazon Streaming and Netflix DVD)
I CAPTURE THE CASTLE
Since females learn to swoon when they’re teenagers, there’s no better example of a swoon worthy scene than this one from the movie translation of Dodie Smith’s classic young adult coming-of-age novel. Although there are several scenes featuring a young (and adorably handsome) Henry Cavill, the one that catches me every time is that between Cassandra (Romola Garai) and Simon (Henry Thomas), alone on the patio, dancing to “You and the Night and the Music” (at 1:04:51). Both Cassandra and Simon are feeling guilty about enjoying this moment together because he is betrothed to her older sister Rose (Rose Byrne), who Cassandra knows is not in love with him but is marrying him only for his money. This feeling of forbidden and guilty attraction heightens the tension and transforms the scene into one that is tender, romantic and bittersweet – it’s the exact kind of scene that makes young girls swoon. (Currently unavailable)
SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN
This little indie wasn’t widely seen but it is beloved by those who have, including me. And, while I enjoy the chemistry between the two leads, Emily Blunt as British bureaucrat Harriet and Ewan McGregor as the near-autistic fish researcher Dr. Alfred Jones, their scenes are not nearly as swoon worthy as those between Harriet and her boyfriend Captain Robert Mayers (played by the charming Brit Tom Mison who is currently making a significant splash on American television starring as Ichabod Crane in the highly entertaining and hugely popular Fox series Sleepy Hollow). While Mayers appears briefly in the beginning and then goes missing and is presumed dead in Iraq, there’s that one scene when he is found and then flown by helicopter to the Yemen to be reunited with an unsuspecting Harriet. Seeing him alight from the ‘copter (at 1:19:47), stride through the dust and into the arms of a shocked Harriet is a stunning, romantic and swoon worthy moment. (Available on Netflix DVD)
FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL
Their potential love is sunk by a terrible one-night stand and by even worse romantic timing until finally – finally! – Charles (Hugh Grant) and Carrie (Andie MacDowell) find true love in the rain outside of Charles’ apartment in the final scene of the film. He has just come off his disastrous non-wedding to “Duckface” and she has come to check on him, nonverbalizing her love. There is nothing more romantic or life-affirming than not being proposed to when you’re sopping wet and looking your worst, then realizing that he doesn’t even see this less-than-attractive side of you; he just wants to ask you not to marry him but to spend the rest of your life with him. I do! (Available on Amazon Streaming and Netflix DVD).
For two full seasons, it was “Will they or won’t they?” Will Lady Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery) finally ditch her bossy and controlling newspaper baron fiancé, Sir Richard, loosen her prideful attitude and succumb to Matthew Crawley’s (Dan Stevens) long-suppressed feelings of love for her? Yes, yes and yes! In the Season 2 “Christmas at Downton Abbey” episode, Matthew finally finds himself alone with Lady Mary and, sending our collective hearts aflutter, gets down on one knee and proposes (at 1:28:47). Snowflakes whirl about them, adding not only to the wintry setting but to the romantic one as well. Our hearts burst as Lady Mary answers him with a definitive “Yes!” (Available on Amazon Streaming and Netflix DVD)
“…I’m also just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.” I’ve watched this movie more than 25 times and it still sends shivers down my spine and directly to my heart. For a woman as famous as Anna Scott (Julia Roberts), making this confession is difficult – we know, because we can see the pain on her face. For her request to be rejected makes us feel even worse because we know that William Thacker (Hugh Grant) is being phenomenally stupid. So, when he finally realizes his mistake and, with the help of his friends, races to the hotel where Anna is delivering her final press conference before leaving the country, we wait with breathless anticipation for what we already know will happen. I love this scene in the hotel ballroom (at 1:53:21); it’s filled with people, cameras and television monitors and lots of activity, yet Anna and William have eyes only for each other. Director Roger Michell perfectly captures writer Richard Curtis’ well-written scene of the two of them declaring their love before the world. It’s an entertaining, funny – and incredibly romantic – scene. (Available on Amazon Streaming and Netflix DVD)
SENSE AND SENSIBILITY
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking I’m going to select the scene at the end of the movie, when Elinor Dashwood (Emma Thompson) learns that her secret crush Edward Ferrars (Hugh Grant) is NOT the Ferrars brother who was recently married and is therefore still available. Or, perhaps you’re thinking of the scene when Marianne Dashwood (Kate Winslet) meets Willoughby (Greg Wise) and falls head over heels in love with the dashing, sonnet-spouting man. Nope. The swoon worthy scene in this movie based on Jane Austen’s novel, directed by Ang Lee and adapted by Emma Thompson, comes two-thirds of the way through the film, when Marianne recovers from her near-death illness. Col. Brandon (Alan Rickman), sick with worry over the woman he secretly loves, has gone to fetch Marianne’s mother and has brought the woman to Marianne’s sickbed. As mother and daughter are reunited, Col. Brandon begins backing out of the room to give them some privacy. Marianne calls out to him and, for the first time, is sincere in her appreciation for him. “Thank you,” she says simply. The infinitesimal smile that comes over Alan Rickman’s face is perfection; this small change in his visage says everything about his feelings at that moment, which is why this one-second look (at 1:59:45) makes my list. (Available on Amazon Streaming and Netflix Streaming and DVD)
PRIDE & PREJUDICE
Frankly, you can have Colin Firth coming out of the lake in a wet shirt. I’d much prefer watching Matthew Macfayden’s Mr. Darcy walk through the field at dawn and into the waiting arms of Keira Knightley’s Elizabeth Bennet any day. In this 2005 iteration of Jane Austen’s novel, directed by Joe Wright and adapted by Deborah Moggach, this penultimate scene (at 1:53:00) is a romantic wonder. The open field with the rising sun, Mr. Darcy’s long coat and open-neck shirt, Elizabeth’s long side braid, their hands together and their foreheads touching, forming a beautiful heart shape with the sun coming up between them, is a stunning visual and, combined with the lush score of Dario Marianelli, makes for one of the very best swoon worthy scenes. (Available on Amazon Streaming and Netflix DVD)
NORTH & SOUTH
For nearly four hours, Margaret Hale (Daniela Denby-Ashe) and John Thornton (Richard Armitage) are in conflict – she, the proud woman from the South and he, the hard-working factory owner of the North. In this excellent translation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel, adapted by Sandy Welch and directed by Brian Percival, the two have a difficult time finding love. Margaret doesn’t like him. She admits as much at the end of Episode 2 when she turns down Thornton’s offer of marriage; his response is to boldly turn his back on her. (How anyone could reject Richard Armitage is beyond me but that’s a whole other issue.) So, when she comes to her senses and realizes that, yes, she has been a fool, it’s too late. She has traveled to Milton to make a business proposal to Thornton but finds his factory closed and him gone. On her way back to London, her train stops for a northbound train to pass. When she steps out of the car to stretch her legs, she spots Thornton in the northbound train; he has been visiting Helstone, her hometown. What transpires is the most delicate and deliciously romantic moment ever and that’s why this train station scene (at 52:39 of Episode 4) – when Thornton and Margaret finally declare their love for each other – wins my vote for Most Swoon Worthy Scene. It encompasses everything a romantic heart needs: the affirmation of love from both individuals, a busy and beautiful backdrop, gorgeous costumes (yes, Thornton finally loosens his tie!), soaring music, a fantastic kiss and a wonderfully romantic line spoken by Richard Armitage at his sultriest best: “You’re coming home with me.” Swoon Worthy? I’ll say…and then some! (Available on Amazon Streaming and Netflix Streaming and DVD)
About the Author – Janna Wong Healy
Janna has spent her entire life around the written word, editing books, writing magazine articles on a variety of topics and working in the film industry on such movies as “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” and “The Day After.” She spent years as a story analyst for studios and production companies and has written more than 150 menu decks for movies and television series on DVD for Universal Studios Home Entertainment. She wrote about casual gaming for The Clik/Character Arcade, is a featured blogger on Blogher.com and a professor of Business Communication in USC’s Marshall School of Business. Her novels, “Mariana Wong’s Summer of Love” and “Let’s Get Lost,” are available on Kindle.