Friday, December 16, 2005

The Libertine, a review (may contain spoilers)

I’d better admit straight up that I’m a big fan of historicals, books and film. Okay, so I went to see The Libertine. Given that this was about the life of John Wilmot, I wasn’t expecting an easy ride, but – oh boy! Let’s just say I won’t be wishing “the pox” on anyone ever again. :-)

If Johnny Depp doesn’t get some awards for this role, there’s no justice in this world. He gives a blinding performance. What of the film itself, though? Arthouse, which I expected, but at times I ached for the script to be tighter and more focused, which would have made it so much more compelling. It had wonderful supporting actors, especially good to see Johnny Vegas and Jack Davenport cast in parts like this. But I wanted it to be the sort of anarchic historical production that made the BBCs recent Casanova so watchable. That would have suited Wilmot too. There was some humour, don’t get me wrong, but…

I also wished the film had started a little earlier in Wilmot’s life. It starts at the descent. Wilmot was an extraordinary, compelling man, inspiring devotion in those that stood by him as he rotted (inside and out.) We are only given a couple of brief flashes of Wilmot as wit and seducer, a man of intelligence and charm. Brilliant flashes they are (one with Wilmot's wife, where she narrates the moment they met and she lost her heart to him, while he pleasures her in a carriage – ohmy! - and the other when he reconnects with one of his favourite whores.) Notice I don’t mention the scenes with Elizabeth Barry, which weren’t overly strong, IMO, although we might argue they should have been the strongest... We needed to see more of that side of Wilmot, to believe in the ongoing devotion he gets from his closest friends and even Charles II, who couldn’t help giving him one more chance.

Where the filmmaking was outstanding was in depicting a time and place that was honest and not prettified in any way, we experienced the true sordidness of living in that period of our history. If I was ever asked for advice on how to write historicals (laughs away to herself) this is the sort of film I’d force (yes, force!) historical romance authors to sit down and watch. Oh I don’t want historical romances to read like this, nor am I saying most authors would even need it, but for research on a sense of place and time… Whilst a film like Dangerous Liaisons is on my top ten films of forever, there's no beating the honesty of a production like this – kudos!

The film is most noteworthy because it's Depp's most outstanding performance to date. The best film I’ve seen in the last year still remains Man on fire – recommended I think by Sasha. Thanks Sasha! That storyline was not made to attract me, and yet I was stunned by the characterisation of the script and the strength of the acting. It bound me to the characters throughout, leaving me in tears at the end. My all time favourite historical (in case anyone is curious) is this one.

Right on that note – sigh - got to get to work.


ZaZa said...

Excellent review. JD doesn't look himself in those pics, but he looks interesting. \;+)

Saskia Walker said...

Thanks, Zaz! As you know I used to do a lot of reviewing, mostly art and music, but haven't in ages. I just felt i wanted to, with this film, because it had so much potential and hadn't quite hit the spot. I'll try not to post too much analysis here on the blog though LOL Don't want to scare readers away ;-))