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Here in your living room, right here, right now,
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This review is from: Desperate Romantics [DVD] (DVD)
Like thousands of other people with an unhealthy pre-Raphaelite biography habit (okay, obsession), I could supply a long and tedious list of the "errors" in this series. But factual accuracy (as Dickens knew) can only take us so far. It is made pretty clear that Desperate Romantics isn't in that game; isn't even trying. We are supplied with a clear weekly disclaimer, a witty title that refers to another work of TV fiction, and anyone following up their viewing with even the most cursory research will discover soon enough that one of the main characters is a complete invention.
The past has gone and we can never really know - viscerally - what it was like. And there is a risk that, the more we read, the more our knowledge of other days and other lives is freighted with knowledge at the expense of engagement. But by some alchemy, imaginative TV and film can wreak a marvellous feat of resurrection. When the modern imagination takes up the past - rifling the texts, rampaging in the (usually metaphorical, but in this instance literal) graveyards and taking all manner of liberties - the result is often compelling.Costume drama of the conventional kind just doesn't do it, at least not for me. No, it's that wrenching round of the past to align with the present; the striking and deliberate archaism dropped into otherwise contemporary phrasing; flamboyant 21st century sexuality played out against nineteenth century lighting, set-dressing and costume. Your favourite bit of cultural history is here in your living room - and this time you can see and hear it live. Whether you're ready or not, whether it's realistic or not, it's come through into your 21st century head.
And so this wonderful, post-modern world we live in brings the dead alive, although probably not as they would have wished. We'll never know about that, although one assumes that if any of the real-life protagonists had retained enough of an individual identity in the great beyond to know or care what modern TV has made of them, Broadcasting House would have been in receipt of a few disabling thunderbolts by now. The most deserved of these would have come from William Morris, the only character who strikes a false note in that the portrayal seems neither sympathetic nor prompted by what we know of his life and thought. Random injustice to the greatest thinker and human being, if not the most creative individual, amongst the lot of them - and he didn't really have to be in this series at all, did he? So the representation was gratuitous as well, and perhaps politically motivated.
Okay - so, like all the best pleasures, my enjoyment of Desperate Romantics has been attended with some unease. As the Victorians probably knew all too well, rightness - in the sense of rectitude rather than fitness for purpose - and propriety are tricky matters to address when they compromise our joys. As we are not Victorians, these issues are unlikely to exercise a TV company in comparison with ratings, word-of-mouth buzz, or saleability on DVD. And isn't it a nice little irony that the Pre-Raphaelites themselves did the mediaeval world much as their own has now been done by, and that the same parallel could be drawn between Rossetti's treatment of Dante's story and the BBC's treatment of his own.