in bed with the Pre-Raphaelites

Sort of… am actually in bed with a cold, which inspired a marathon viewing of the BBC’s lush and lovely, Desperate Romantics, inspired by the lives and loves (and lusts) of the members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. The series stars Aidan Turner (of Being Human fame) as Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Rafe Spall as William Holman Hunt, Samuel Barnett as John Everett Millais, Sam Crane as Fred Walters, and Amy Manson as model and muse Lizzie Siddal.

Amy Manson as Elizabeth Siddal in Desperate Romantics

Visually, the series is a stunner. Sets, costumes, make-up, the imagery and design of the series captures the beauty and richness of the Pre-Raphaelite ideals, and brings to life the rebellious spirit of the members of this revolutionary group. Amy Manson’s Lizzie Siddal shines as a living image of the burnished gold beauty immortalized in Rossetti’s works.

The series does not romanticize the tragic aspects of Lizzie’s relationship with Gabriel, lending a certain grace and dignity to what was a troubled relationship during a time when a women had little control over their personal fortunes. Lizzie’s efforts to become an artist in her own right are explored in equal measure, as is her addiction and depression. Annie Miller, Fanny Cornforth, and Jane Burden (Morris) are also introduced and treated as more than mere models, but as individuals in their own right who managed to become part of a movement that would immortalize them.

Rossetti's Beata Beatrix

This is what the series does well… it captures these characters and reveals them as imperfect and passionate beings, desperate to capture life as they see it. Unfortunately, clocking in at six, 50 minute episodes, the series feels rushed. A history that spanned years, appears to take place over the course of a few months… Which explains why I found myself wondering what sort of substance Rossetti, Hunt, and Millais were consuming to produce such large-scale works during the course of a couple of sleepless nights. Also missing are the other members of the brotherhood (with the exception of an appearance by William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones late in the series), and Rossetti’s family.

Desperate Romantics manages to capture the spirit of the movement, if not in a historically accurate manner. The series is sexed up, but that may not be so far off the mark for this group, and may help generate a renewed interest in the PRB. For myself, the series was a great way to reignite my own passion for Pre-Raphaelite history and an entertaining way to spend a few hours in bed. It’s a beautiful series and makes me yearn for stunning red hair.

Author: emilia grace

romance writer and bibliophile

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: