on 7 May 2006
The film is based on the life of John Wilmot, second Earl of Rochester and friend of King Charles 11. Wilmot was befriended by Charles because Wilmot's father had assisted Charles whilst in exile. Friend or not Wilmot truly was a libertine. He delighted and revelled in sex be it heterosexual or homosexual, he wrote extremely bawdy poems and plays and drank to excess once boasting that he had not been sober for five years. His long suffering wife had to put up with his behaviour until she could take no more. He eventually did truly fall in love with a woman and helped her to become a famous actress on the London stage at a time when women were just entering the acting profession but she did not want him as he wanted her - not only to be his wife but also the mother of his child.
Charles banished him from court many times because of his behaviour but always forgave him. Commissioned to write a play by Charles because "Elizabeth 1 had her Shakespeare" and Charles wanted his, Wilmot came up with the most obscene play that he could write. Not only was it obscene but was aimed directly at Charles 11 himself. The King attended along with the French Ambassador and was obviously appalled. Although himself known as "The Merry Monarch" who had many mistresses, this was a step too far. Wilmot was disgraced and had to flee. The film then goes on to chronicle his descent even further into drink and venereal disease. Wilmot was obviously a man with great talent but with a "self-destruct" button that he could not or would not turn off. He died in his early thirties having finally done something to redeem himself in his own eyes.
The settings and make-up are superb. The directing is excellent although the film is shot darkly and can be a little murky at time. The language is somewhat flowery as it would have been then. It perfectly captures the time of the Restoration period when after years of Puritan rule, anything went, literally anything, as people gave free rein to their desires.
A truly stunning performance by Johnny Depp proving what a remarkably fine and rather under-rated actor he is. He can tackle any role and make it truly and utterly believable John Malkovitch makes a subtle Charles 11 and with a very strong supporting cast it is worth watching for the acting alone.
The film opens with a prologue where John Wilmot says "You will not like me, I do not want you to like me". In the end you cannot help liking him a little and also feeling sorry for him - sorry that he threw his life away, a life that held such promise if only he had channelled his abilities in the right direction.
If you like true stories, if you like a film that makes you think, a film you have to concentrate on, if you enjoy history and are not shocked by explicit sexual references and images then this is the film for you.
on 19 January 2006
I hardly know where to begin talking about this maginificent film. It's certainly not the sort of thing that I could reccommend to everyone, since its difficult and bleak subject-matter would probably benefit from an audience's basic prior knowledge both of the mentality of the Restoration era and of the life of John Wilmot himself. I suppose with that in mind it's a little easier to at least understand why The Libertine was not treated as favourably as it deserved by the critics on its release into cinemas; for people to come unsuspectingly to a film that portrays a period in history in all its painful, cruel ugliness is asking a lot, particularly when most people have been raised on a diet of the more chocolate-box, Merchant Ivory style of costume dramas.
That said, I cannot praise The Libertine highly enough. Having never really paid a great deal of attention to Johnny Depp's career in the past, I had very few preconceptions about what he might bring to the role of the Earl of Rochester, that troubled, unhappy, fiercely contradictory man. But Depp surely surpasses himself in a performance that is intelligent, judged with astonishing sensitivity and demonstrating a depth and range of emotion that brings precisely the sort of conflicted pain, anger, bitter humour, cruelty, cynicism and, yes, tenderness to this difficult role that was endemic in the real John Wilmot, a man who could barely stand the reality of life as the person he was, particularly as his outer shell is stripped away and his inner torment is given a physical manifestation. It also goes without saying that the film is breathtakingly beautifully written, at once smart, sexy, poetic, very amusing and finely judged. I would actually say that its stage origins, instead of hampering its transfer to the screen, serve to highlight the theatrical quality of people's lives in Charles II's England, when much of the behaviour of the elite classes was purely defined by performance, lives led on a gaudy, superficial knife-edge. First-term director Laurence Dunmore adds an appropriately modern, unsentimental aspect to the film, with the use of natural lighting and an almost documentary-style of filming. Amongst the supporting players, performances by Samantha Morton and Rosamund Pike stand out, deftly seeming to portray the two opposing sides of Wilmot's nature.
So all I can really offer as advice to people approaching this film for the first time is: hold your nerven, toughen up your stomach and, most importantly, open up your mind. If you try to see The Libertine in the way it was intended, I guarantee the experience will be a rewarding and, ultimately, beautiful one. I will be proud to own this film when it is released on DVD.
on 14 July 2006
Public opinion on 'The Libertine' appears to be divided between those who think it's a load of pretentious tosh (which it isn't) and those who just love Johnny Depp and think it's way cool (which it isn't either).
Bear in mind that this is a.) a screen adaptation of a successful play which has been b.) adapted by the original playwright. I knew the play already and am not all that surprised to see that the playwright has done his best to retain a lot of the themes that help to make the play such a success. Unfortunately, it still seems like a play that's been wrenched onto the screen, not like a movie unto itself.
The sad thing is, there are some fantastic performances happening in this film. For all Stephen Jeffreys might not be a great adapter of his own work, he's a gifted writer of speeches, and the actors pick 'em up and run. The supporting cast is brilliant. Tom Hollander as Depp's plodding but gifted friend George Etherege (himself a notable playwright), Rosamund Pike as his lovely and furious wife, Richard Coyle as his cocky manservant and Kelly Reilly as the tart-with-a-reluctant-heart are all excellent, and they're not even the featured stars. Even Johnny Vegas shows he can act, and act well. John Malkovich is wonderfully natural and unforced as Charles II - you wonder why nobody ever thought of casting him as a king before, since it suits him so well. Samantha Morton is equally wonderful, which is especially surprising since like Malkovich she tends to be annoyingly mannered. As for Johnny Depp, this is some career-best stuff he's doing; Depp is never boring, always engaging, often hysterically funny, sometimes alarming, but this is as close as he's ever come to making this cynical reviewer want to reach for the handkerchief. His depiction of John Wilmot's journey from handsome smirking rascal to desperate pox-ridden cripple is one of the best things he's ever done.
So why doesn't it work? Hard to say. Malkovich's blindingly obvious false nose is a major culprit, at least for the first half an hour. Later on the makeup designer seems to be nodding once again, in that as soon as we get a good view of Depp's smallpox in all its scabby horror, it just isn't revolting enough to seriously distract attention away from his cheekbones. Maybe we should blame the lighting guy for that.
Beyond that, the film never quite seems to pick up enough speed. I feel like I should blame both the director and the editor for not daring to be less respectful to the source material. But who knows how it happened? It feels like it could have been utterly brilliant, but instead it's only...okay. It lacks energy. There are too many fades to black. It's too - what's the word? - theatrical.
Still, it's a good story, albeit a sluggish one, and it's all too true. John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, really lived, and you can buy his collected poems in your local decent-sized bookshop. He really was like that. He really did write like that. He was perhaps the most nihilistic poet in English literature, and incidentally perhaps the only arguably great English writer to have been a member of the upper class. Not your ordinary dead white guy. (Are there any ordinary dead white guys? Matthew Arnold, maybe, and that's it?) The film is worth watching, if only to get interested in him in the first place.
on 27 February 2006
This is a delight to watch and Depp again surpasses himself with a thoroughly absorbing and heartfelt performance. An excellent film with an excellent supporting cast - in particular, for me, Rosamund Pike and John Malkovich - that you cannot take your eyes away from. I'm sad to see the DVD has been delayed but I'm looking forward to experiencing this gem again very soon - Depp should surely have a been a shoe-in for this season of awards ceremonies - Hollywood again shooting themselves in the foot!!!
on 29 August 2006
Tough, Johnny. I did!
A clever, sad and witty film that keeps your mind turning long after the final credits have rolled. Not, perhaps, for fans of Captain Jack Sparrow - this Johnny is a much deeper, darker character!
John Wilmot, second Earl of Rochester, was a truly tragic chap, imo. He was a brilliant man with self-destructive tendencies that eventually killed him. True, his brutal honesty was not always appreciated in some quarters but at least he was an honest kind of libertine. Yes, there are sexual refences, but they are not quite so shocking as you might suppose. Perhaps that's just me. I have the feeling that this film barely scratches the surface of this infamous Earl. My only criticism is that it did not delve deeply enough. What made Wilmot this way?
He hated life because - and as much as- he loathed himself. The film centres around his love affair with Elizabeth Barry, an average actress with big ambitions. Under his tutorage, Barry becomes the toast of the London theatre scene. Was it really love? Of a kind. He experienced vicarious joy through Barry's success - a joy he could not find in his own life. Even she could not save him from himself in the end. How do you save someone who has no desire to be 'saved'?
Depp acted his butt off and I totally believed in him. Malcovich was deliciously restrained in his role as the king. Morton was excellent as, the rather hard-nosed, Barry. Johnny Vegas was surprisingly good as Sackville. Oh, and watch out for Alcock (Richard Coyle), Rochester's man servant; he didn't have many lines but he never failed to make me smile.
Would I watch it again? Probably not. Yes, there is humour, but the damp and seeping darkness of the Earl's soul is just a tad too disturbing for my tastes. Rent it before you buy.
on 19 May 2006
In all honesty - the reason I originally decided to buy this film was simple - Johnny Depp. I am not always a fan of his work - not because of his acting but more the subject matter doesn't always appeal. I had read an interesting review of this however so thought - OK let's give it a try.
After the opening monologue you are left wondering exactly what sort of ride you are in for. Even the box says the film is 'obscene and decadent' and within ten minutes you see evidence of this. Can you really embrace the lead role when he is so obviously flawed?
Get past that and what you find is a compelling character who, far from wanting to run from him, makes you want to run towards him. Rochester is actually a profoundly sad and unhappy individual who just couldn't enjoy life by himself. You get drawn towards him and despite his path of self destruction - like any good female - I desparately wanted to take care of him!!
The end scenes, when he finally admits to himself and those who care for him, that what he has become - he has done to himself and cannot alter - are so tearjerking that you will be gripped and the question he asks at the end of the prologue will leave you shouting 'yes' at the screen! As for Johnny Depp - he is quite simply sublime in this film and displays a talent so rare that I shall take more note of his film choices in the future. This is truly a quality piece of film and I would recommend it wholeheartedly.
on 2 October 2006
This is a film which took a very long time to finally reach theatres and then, for only a very limited time and very limited screens. I first saw it in the small Odeon in Leicester Square and I knew as soon as it ended that it was not going to recieve the recollition it desreved.
Johnny Depp does superb, even his finest, work in portraying the Earl of Rochester. The opening and ending monoglouges are, to me, the best parts of the movie, the very last lines being: 'Do you like me now?' and by this time the viewer cant help but like John, or at the very least, feel empathy. For all his honesty, his bluntness, his drinking, his sexual freeness (shall we say) and his power we watch him fall so far as to the point he could not even control his own bladder.
John Malkovich, Samantha Mortan, Tom Hollander and Johnny Vegas make up a supuerb supporting cast and Richard Coyle provides comedic releif from the more sinister lines of his co-stars.
This movie may not be for everyone but if you 'get it' it is one that will stay with you for days afterward. 10 months (with frequent re-watches since the dvd) this movie continues to leave an impact
on 10 March 2006
Fantastic film. Absolutely 5 stars. Depp, well it must be his best performance yet. Stunning sets and Costumes. Real Treat and informative historically. Must have cost a packet to make. Go on rent it..you will love it! Another fantastic British film.
on 20 September 2015
It's not often I say that a film is outstanding. Most of the stuff people rave about strikes me as reasonably good, three star stuff.
Mind you, that's Hollywood (but it wasn't just because this was a joint British/Australian production that I think it's so imp0ressive, honestly).
Outstanding performances all round, but particularly from Johnny Depp as the debauched and melancholy Rochester.
This isn't entirely historically accurate - for instance, Rochester knew his child by Elizabeth Barry, and even took her out of her custody at one point, and it wasn't his speech that had such an effect over the succession crises in the time of anti Cahtholic hysteria - but these deviations from the less dramatic truth made for good impact in the structure of the play.
I liked the way the squalid side of life in Restoration England was brought out; too often, the mud and cruelty are swept under the carpet (there could have been more emphasis on the general poverty of the population n this, but after all, it is about a aristocrat).
My main objection was the colouring; the theme was so tragic that really, the effect of muted colours was as superfluous as it was with the old BBC production of King Lear. I would have liked to see some gorgeous colours. Was the lack of brilliance supposed to reflect Rochester's viewpoint?
on 16 February 2013
I'm surprised this has not got 5 stars overall on here, as I thought this was a truly outstanding film.
I first watched this a couple of years ago on DVD, and recently purchased it from Amazon, as I remembered liking it a lot. I watched it tonight, and had forgotten what an amazing film it is. I don't say this lightly, nor am I saying it just because of Johnny Depp, but he really is extraordinary in the role of John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, during the reign of Charles II.
The trailer does the film no credit, painting it as a bawdy bit of fun- my friend was put off it until I told him how brilliant it actually is. The film is very moving, funny, but really very sad, as we see how disillusioned John is by life, and needing to feel alive. His only way of feeling alive is in his patronage of theatre actress Samantha Morton. (who is excellent in her role)
The cast includes several actors from 'Pirates of the Caribbean', and it is rather nice to see Tom Hollander and Jack Davenport acting with Johnny again, and they are both excellent. Rosamund Pike shines too as John's long suffering, loving wife, but it John Malkovich as Charles II really stands out. He loves his friend, yet is utterly disappointed in him; the weariness shows on his face every time they meet.
Interestingly, it is shot as though we are watching a piece of Edwardian film footage- always the slight halo round the edges of the film, and the colour drained out. This adds to the atmosphere, and feels slightly surreal.
This is an unusal and brilliant film, not fitting in with other costume dramas. Fitting perhaps, for John Wilmot, who never quite fitted in himself.