Sunday, December 16, 2012

Son of Saturday at the Movies #2: The Libertine

Three movies this weekend, and I still have my Dr. Zhivago rant to transcribe (it's in longhand and it's long, and I want to see if the library can find me the 2004 UK TV remake) but the movie strongest in my mind right now is The Libertine, with Johnny Depp.

The English Restoration is one of the eras in which I feel the most at home as reader and writer both, and the visuals of this era are gorgeous - both sexes lavishly dressed, the glorious excess of the restored monarchy in a huge pendulum swing from the stern repression of the Lord Protectorate under Oliver Cromwell, the sense that life, in many aspects, could begin again. I especially liked that this film wasn't about only the excesses of the era, but the consequences as well. We also get to spend time in the world of Restoration theater (I will seriously look at anything having anything to do with Restoration theater) with a young actress who goes from getting booed off the stage, to being Wilmot's protege and mistress, to royal spy, to ultimately her own woman.

This is a dark movie. Literally, and figuratively. I'm going to have to watch it again on a smaller screen that is closer to my face and with better lighting because I have no idea what the white script on black says, but such screens take up a good part of the first few minutes of the film. I'm going to guess some historical information on the real John Wilmot, who would have been a rock star in today's parlance. As a poet, he was a favorite as well as a bane of Charles II, definitely not the kind of guy you'd want to bring home to mommy, because he'd charm her into a compromising position in the laundry room before she'd had so much as a chance to take his coat. That kind of guy, which actually makes the ultimate resolution believable on several different levels.

Johnny Depp, of course, was brilliant, as Wilmot in his prime, Wilmot on the downhill slide, Wilmot arguing passionately before the House of Lords regarding laws of succession (and dang, can that man make even a prosthetic metal nose look good.) The scenes that stuck with me the most are two: his appearance before Lords, loud, brash, painted and costumed to hide the disease that consumed his body and mind; and the quieter, more intimate confessional style frame of the film, that of a young Wilmot, without paint or artifice, first assuring the viewer they will not like him, and then at the end, asking with ever more vulnerable repetition, if they like him now. That's the kind of acting, and the kind of story, that I like to marinate in for a while; not think of anything else, or anything in particular, but let it sift into my brain and emotions as it will.

I've already written one book set at the tail end of the English Civil War and I can feel some Restoration stories making noise in the back of my brain, so this was a good time to see The Libertine. One of my favorite authors, Judith James, drew inspiration from Wilmot for her Libertine's Kiss, whose hero has a happier ending than the real Wilmot or Depp's portrayal. I'm thinking it's time for a reread.

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