Saturday, November 28, 2009

Desperate Romantics

Desperate Romantics
Based on the book by Franny Moyle
Release Date: Septmeber 21st, 2009 (Region 2), TBD (Region 1)
Starring: Aidan Turner, Amy Manson, Rafe Spall, Jennine Jacques, Tom Hollander, Zoe Tapper, Samuel Barnett, Timothy West and Sam Crane
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy (UK)

This miniseries encapsulating the lives of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood from first laying eyes on Lizzie Siddal to her death was one of the most captivating and energetic adaptations I've seen in recent years. Narrated by the fictitious reporter Fred Walters, we follow the brotherhood of William Holman Hunt (Spall), Dante Gabriel Rossetti (Turner) and John Everett Millais (Barnett) as they set out to change the face of art forever. We first encounter them as outcasts trying to break into the Academy, despite the derision of those around them, Dickens himself even being a detractor. But upon finding Lizzie, they all become inspired and realize their best hope is to secure the patronage of John Ruskin, the artist and art critic. As there lives become more and more entwined with lack of inspiration and women troubles they gain more and more prominence in the art world. Their artistic achievements being encapsulated in the mess of their love lives. While each artist is his own character, from the naive child protege Millais, to the spiritually troubled pugilist Hunt, to the womanizing centrifugal force that is Rossetti, it's their friendship that is the driving force of their lives and their art.

What I think will really draw and keep the viewers is, that while this is based on a more historical text, there is a vibrancy and humor to the characters. The writing is willing to let you laugh and not bog you down with dusty old lectures on how life was back in the day. There's life in these artists! Some people I see have taken umbrage that this is too sensationalist, not real, but that's not the case. Sure they change things here and there and contract time, but overall the basic facts are correct. Plus they've done a great job on integrating the art into the show with each episode culminating in one piece created. The first three episodes concentrate on Millais' work, spotlighting Christ in the House of His Parents, Ophelia and The Order of Release. The next episode concentrates on Hunt's The Scapegoat, because who doesn't love a painting of a pretty goat? The final two episodes deal with Rossetti's Bocca Baciata and Beata Beatrix. The BBC's website has a great interactive page so you can learn more about the pieces used in the series. I also felt that this was perfect timing for me to watch this because a few weeks ago I went to the Art Institute of Chicago where they are hosting an exhibition on the Arts and Crafts movement, Apostles of Beauty, where they had not only original drawings from the Pre-Raphaelites, but they had Rossetti's Beata Beatrix, the idealization of his dead wife as Dante's Beatrice. To see the art in the flesh but then to see it celebrated in the series was too much to be hoped for.

Of course, not every miniseries is flawless, I have two issues with Desperate Romantics. The first is the music. It was atrocious, skipping from overtly Gothic to Beatles rifs... it was almost as if a madman had done the score, someone with no knowledge of musical time periods who just threw it all together at the last minute. You can have over the top slightly modern music, look to Murray Gold's work on Casanova. This was just shite. The second is the PR on was billed as kind of a Victorian Entourage, or an Entourage with easels, thankfully it's anything but, no matter what the PR department thought. The main reason being Aidan Turner can act, whereas I've never seen any evidence of that fact with Adrian Grenier... I just think that saying that it's like this other thing that is popular but not very good is going to lead people to make unfair comparisons. The joy and exuberance that Aidan Turner lends to Rossetti, or the desperately psychotic stares of Hunt or the sweetness of Millais could never be captured by the actors or the writers of Entourage. I cry fowl! Just because it's fun and enjoyable doesn't mean you have to sell it by comparison to something similar but not quite, it should sell itself. I'm hoping once this hits stateside you'll get to see what I'm saying.


I love the Pre-Raphaelites! Although my favorite is Waterhouse. Does he make an appearance too?

Sadly no. Morris and Edward Burne-Jones make an appearance at the end (well with Rossetti, you have to have Morris at some point.) Sadly no Waterhouse, though I don't think you'll miss him.

It was a great cast and Aiden
Turner is definately worth watching. It is fun and entertaining but I still have some issues with it. Beata Beatrix is an amazing painting, haunting is an apt adjective. Glad you enjoyed it, my daughter loved it, she would say my reservations are just me being a snob. I do think everyone should see it if they get the chance it is extremely entertaining, vibrant and funny.

It makes the artists come alive and will hopefully inspire people to learn more about them. Especially the younger generations who might not know who they are.

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