Monday, August 3, 2009

Desperate Romantics - First Impressions

I finally had a chance to watch the first two episodes of BBC's Desperate Romantics with Javier last week. We both really enjoyed it. Overall, I found it highly entertaining (and yes, it was quite accurately described by its producer as "Entourage with easels"). The production was a bit weak on the historical front, but I suppose this was done by the writers to broaden the appeal of the series.

The series focuses on the early years of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and follows their rise to fame.

I was pleasantly surprised with the casting, particularly that of Lizzie Siddal. The actress who plays Lizzie not only resembles Siddal a great deal, but she also does an excellent job of bringing life and pathos to the character. John and Effie Ruskin are also well-cast, and are more developed than I had anticipated, although the endless speculation about what was wrong with their marriage always gets to me--honestly, nobody has any idea what the problem was (biographers seem to constantly return to the idea that Ruskin was disgusted by Effie's body hair, but how could they know?). Nevertheless, much like the rumours about Michael Jackson, I suppose this gossip is just too juicy for scriptwriters to pass up.

Unfortunately, the characterization of most of the other major players is rather simplistic, though it is in keeping with the rest of the shows' approach. Aidan Turner is handsome and energetic as Dante Gabriel Rossetti, if a bit one-dimensional. William Holman Hunt's character certainly seems to have drawn the short straw in terms of personality. Most biographers of the Pre-Raphaelites tend to consider Hunt a bit of a blowhard, but he's painted with such a broad brush in this production that it borders on the ridiculous. I hope that the writers will add some nuance to his character in the remaining episodes. Perhaps the most promising character so far is that of John Everett Millais, who is played by Samuel Barnett. Millais' character is quite endearing, and it looks like we will be seeing more of him in tonight's episode.

The character I could sort of do without is Fred Walters--a fictional hanger-on that is meant to function as a bit of a window into the lives of the PRB. He's sort of an amalgamation of a number of real-life members of the brotherhood, but I really wish that they had included William Michael Rossetti in the story instead. William Michael has always seemed quite interesting to me, and he certainly did a great deal to contribute to the visibility of the Brotherhood. I suppose the writers felt that adding in another member of the Rossetti family would rob Dante Gabriel of some of his mystique, but I digress.

Overall, I'm definitely enjoying the series. It's so nice to finally see the lives of the Pre-Raphaelites dramatized! Desperate Romantics may fall a bit short on historical accuracy, but the story of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood is so inherently exciting that the show can't help but be enormously entertaining.

I'd be extremely interested to hear from others who've had a chance to see the first few episodes. What were your first impressions? Were you pleased or disappointed? Do you think the show will revive interest in the Pre-Raphaelites?


Valerie Fish said...

I missed the lst episode of this series, but have enjoyed what I have seen so far and learned more about the PRB, even tho it is a dramatisation and factually enhanced for the effect. I watched the BBCFOUR programme afterwards which went more into the history of the PRB and find the whole thing interesting and well played, well costumed and entertaining to watch, having always liked the PRB. My first sight of one of the paintings was Millais' Ophelia at the Tate and I also liked Holman Hunts Light of the World. They had a unique and revolutionary, for the time, approach to their art and caused a lot of controversy but were paving the way for the Impressionists.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

I can't wait to see this. I wonder when it will arrive in the states?

The Nightwatchman said...

I didn't enjoy it and have considered giving up before episode 3. In the end my wife persuade me to sit and watch it.

Afterwards, they repeated the half hour show about the early part of the PRB programme as Valerie mentioned. It was so much better as it show my wife the reasons why these paintings were so revolutionary at the time.

Agreed actors and production values are very good. I like Millais' purple and Hunt's multi coloured waistcoat. The actress playing Lizzie Siddal is very good, but Rosetti seems the pantomime villain.

Not sure if I can stay and watch the other episodes though.

Medieval Muse said...

I'm thoroughly enjoying it and am not really bothered about the historical or character inaccuracies. I liken it to book-to-movie adaptations where people/events are reinterpreted to best suit another medium. We simply cannot KNOW for certain what transpired in their lives, the interactions with one another so I am thrilled to watch this for what it is.
Some of the one-liners are brilliantly hilarious!

Stephanie Pina said...

I was quite pleased with their representation of Lizzie, but I'm not too thrilled with Rossetti. I, too, could do without the fictional "Fred Walters".
Just when I am about to get irritated at the program, the intrusive background music reminds me that perhaps the whole series is meant to be tongue in cheek.

maidofkent said...

I love Aidan Turner's interpretation of Rossetti!

The Nightwatchman said...

I suppose we are back to the question, 'Do we want the facts to get in the way of a good story?'.

I think I would have preferred a fiction melodrama of the period. No sure if Dickens included any painters in his fiction?

I agree Maid, but the character written for Turner is good acting, but I keep wondering where the rest of the Rosetti family are?

acornmoon said...

I am finding the series very entertaining although a bit silly in parts, nevertheless I am looking forward to seeing the next episode.

We had chance to see the Waterhouse exhibition at the RA in London featuring The Lady of Shalott - which will be forever connected with your blog banner in my mind!

Tracy said...

I haven't seen it yet...but hope to. I sound very well presented! In such doing, those fictional, add-on characters never add much to story I find either, more irritating and distracting then adding any extra to the story. As for the speculation on what when wrong between Ruskin and Effie, the whole this is probably really sad and we'll never know. Why speculate when there is much more to focus on? Happy weekend, Margaret! :o)

Margaret said...

Thank you for all the comments, everyone!

Tracy--I completely agree with you about Ruskin and Effie!

Nightwatchman--I definitely understand your frustration with the series, though I must admit I'm just happy to see the PRB getting some attention. Hopefully the series will generate some interest in the period and the movement.

The Nightwatchman said...

Hi, Margaret.

I found the BBC web site much better as it had the picture of the today's programme with comment by an art historian.

Not sure if you can access it from overseas?

I am told that there was an earlier series about the PRB on the BBC some time ago - 1960s/70s. Not that I can remember it.

Also I am lucky that I have access to Manchester/Liverpool/Leverhulme/Tate art galleries. Would love to see some one like Robert Hughes take a critical look at the PRB in depth.

Have you got access to half hour programme about the PRB? Link below -