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.

Review: He Knew He Was Right (BBC, 2004)

Based on Anthony Trollope’s novel of the same name, He Knew He was Right follows the courtship and subsequent marriage of Louis and Emily Trevelyan, as these two try to make a life in England. The union between these two appears blissful, a devoted husband and wife with a small son. Emily shares her home with her sister, Nora, and finds pleasure in the society of her husband and his friend, Hugh Stanbury. However, there is one person who Louis disapproves of, Colonel Osborne, Emily’s godfather and an old friend of her father’s. As Louis begins to suspect that there is more between Osborne and Emily than what would be deemed proper, he tries to forbid Emily’s continued association with that gentleman. When she refuses to give in to his demands, arguing that her relationship is innocent, Louis becomes threatening and irrational, sending Emily and Nora away with little Louis to stay with the Stanburys. Though Emily tries to make her husband see reason, Louis staunchly believes that his suspicion is right and that his wife has betrayed him and shamed him before society. His belief sets into motion a terrible chain of events that forever rends their union and destroys their felicity.

He Knew He was Right has to be the single most tragic period drama I have seen. I don’t think I have ever felt so miserable as a result of the turn of events in a period film, but Louis Trevelyan’s descent into madness as Emily tries to defend her honor and independence really try the viewer’s emotions and bring little satisfaction in the end.

However, while Emily and Louis’s tragic tale dominate the plot, there are several narrative threads that lend some comic relief to the otherwise bleak tale. The arc involving Hugh’s sister, Dorothy, and their rich Aunt Stanbury is sweet and endearing as Dorothy wins that lady’s heart and finds an unexpectedly happy ending with her aunt’s heir. The relationship between pompous parson, Mr. Gibson (played by a very harried-looking David Tennant), and the French sisters also brings some hilarity to the story.

Trollope’s treatment of women’s place and the laws of coverture are incredibly powerful and the film portrays that brilliantly through its depiction of the trials experienced by Emily Trevelyan, as well as Nora, the French sisters, Aunt Stanbury, and Dorothy. It is a great film, but definitely not light-hearted.

Random useless factoid: I had a moment of “Aha!” when I realized that music in the BBC drama promo that they play at the beginning of all the recent BBC video DVDs is from the opening credits to this series.

Review: The Barchester Chronicles


I’ve been going through my queue, so it’s time for another period film review 🙂

After watching “The Way We Live Now,I decided to go through the Anthony Trollope BBC collection. Based on Trollope’s The Warden and Barchester Towers, “The Barchester Chronicles” follows the religious and political machinations underfoot in the town of Barchester.

While some of the older BBC series often feel like dated set pieces (this one was released in 1982), this one seemed as fresh as “Cranford”. And like “Cranford,” the characters are wonderfully developed–Mr. Harding is as sweet and endearing as Miss Matty.

I did not think I was going to enjoy the series after watching the first episode, but it was the dynamic between Mr. Harding and Mr. Grantly that captured my interest and made me stick to it.

The parallel between Mr. Grantly’s tantrums and Mr. Harding’s easy manner adds to the tempest in a teacup quality that drives the plot. Every move is a political move of great importance in Mr. Grantly’s estimation; he must have his way or else! Mr. Harding, however, is a man of great conscience and empathy–according to Mr. Grantly, it is his greatest weakness. What else must a clergyman be if not immune to empathy? Of course, there is a limit to the level of empathy that any man can possess, as is evidenced by Mr. Harding’s less-than-warm reception of Mr. Obadiah Slope–the sleazy chaplain played by a young Alan Rickman.

While I enjoyed the series, I cannot call it a favorite. I haven’t read Trollope and so can’t compare the series to the novels, but I find that it takes a little more effort on my part to enjoy the Trollope collection. The first time I watched “The Way We Live Now,” I stopped watching after the first episode and only returned to it a few months later because I forgot to remove it from my Netflix queue and received it. I didn’t make the same mistake with “Barchester;” though the first episode was slow, I convinced myself to keep watching and found that the slow start gave way to an interesting story.