Barely 20 minutes into the first episode, we find Bateman’s character John Beecham shirtless in the garden of his new Indian mansion. Dripping with sweat and grunting with the effort, he hacks away at the undergrowth with a billhook machete while his servant warns him to be careful in the heat.
Asked if he had felt objectified, the actor told press: “No, no.” He added: “You feel a bit, there’s a funny line between feeling objectified and feeling supported.”
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Paying tribute to the show’s creator and director Gurinder Chadha, Bateman explained: “It’s a very odd one because we were on set and when I had to do the scythe scene, Gurinder’s wonderful at making you not feel like an idiot – but at the same time she’s not crossed the line into – what’s the word – perving.
“She sort of, you know, she said, ‘Oh you look fantastic, it’s a great scene,’ and she sort of made some comment about people sat behind the monitor going ‘ooh’, you know. Which didn’t make me feel uncomfortable, because by that point we were just a big old family, so I just felt supported and we were all making fun of each other.”
Aidan Turner has previously caused a stir in Poldark with his shirtless scything scene and half-naked bathing scenes, kickstarting a period drama trend which continued in shows from Grantchester (James Norton swimming in the River Cam) to The Last Kingdom (Alexander Dreymon emerging from the water) – to say nothing of Outlander or Versailles. It also led to a discussion about whether these scenes objectify male actors.
On comparisons with Poldark, Gurinder Chadha joked: “Yeah, Poldark is a motherf****r isn’t it? My god. These poor guys, it’s always like, ‘Come on, get the shirt off’ – so we did resist some of that. But that has set the bar in terms of period dramas, I have to say.”
However, that so-called “scythe scene” unfortunately stirred up a hornet’s nest on set – and Bateman means that literally, not figuratively.
“Hilariously, that scene was a nightmare,” he revealed. “Because it was the first time I was topless, outside, and we were filming right below a hornet’s nest, and the smoke that we used for ‘atmos’ aggravated said hornet’s nest, and the hornets came after the whole crew.”
He added: “We had to move locations for the afternoon. We were like, ‘We can’t go back there until it’s sorted out.’ So we went and moved. So I had delivered a topless scene, then went away, and then came back and did a topless scene after lunch.”
“Sadly that is the only topless scene you will see of Tom,” Chadha said, but that is not 100% true – because eight minutes into the first episode we see John Beecham lying in bed semi-naked under a blanket. He has just woken up from a sensual dream sequence featuring memories of a mysterious woman.
“The one in bed was quite early on, that’s when we were in Ealing Studios, that was fine,” Bateman said. “I was just sort of waking up, you know, it’s quite a nice scene to do.
“No lines, no costume, no nothing.”
Beecham House will air on ITV in June 2019