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: Berkeley Square

A look at my Netflix queue looks something like Period Films 101. I love a good costume drama–the more corsets and bustles, the better–so I’ve decided to start blogging about these. I blog about one of my pastimes, why don’t I blog about this one?

berkeley-sqI recently watched Berkeley Square, a drama set in Edwardian London that follows the travails of three nannies: straight-laced and dedicated Matty, naive but loyal Lydia, and troubled Hannah. Each nanny has her own story, their lives coming together as they enter the tight-knit community of nannies that serve the families of Berkeley Square. Despite the differences in their character, the three women bond over the difficulties of their position as women and servants. The series raises issues of social justice for women and the working class, as well as the question of women’s right to experience love when serving in a profession that requires complete dedication to the demands of one’s employer.

I was surprised by some of the issues raised by the series. Hannah’s story in particular raises several issues concerning women’s tenuous position as mothers and workers during this era. An unwed mother, Hannah finds herself in trouble when her child’s father, her only protector, dies in an accident. Struggling to keep her child safe, Hannah is forced to leave little Billy in another’s care before she can take up her post as nanny. Keeping her child secret from her employer and friends, Hannah acts as a mother for the children in her care, but is unable to do the same for her own child.

The series is a must-watch for any lover of period pieces. The storyline is intriguing and illustrative of a slice of Edwardian life that is often overlooked. Think of it as The Nanny Diaries with prams and prying nursemaids.