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on 15 September 2013
An all-star cast, an antagonist/protagonist in one, pretty historically correct, and a really authentic look at the bawdy, dirty, smelly world of the late 17th Century. John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester was a tragic figure who lived for excesses...and died as a result. His shocked and titillated, and could simultaneously arouse and disgust his readers. If you love the Seventeenth Century as much as I do, you must watch this film. I just think it's despicable that this gem is being sold for less than a fiver!
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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.
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Watching this confirmed for me that in most cases I can judge a film by its trailers. In spite of misgivings I was persuaded to see this by a friend who has watched it at least twice.
Surely this film is that wonderful thing, a Hollywood "vehicle" for Johnny Depp as John Wilmot, second Earl of Rochester. He is in every frame and looks his usual gorgeous self until ravaged and dying of unmentionable diseases at an early age. Acting drunk most of the time unfortunately leads to regrettable comparisons with Johnny Depp playing Captain Jack Sparrow. John Malkovich has an alarmingly long false nose which I kept expecting to drop off; and Samantha Morton acts badly as an actress acting badly.

William Hazlitt judged that "his contempt for everything that others respect almost amounts to sublimity"; so when John Wilmot asks us at the end of the film if we like him, the answer has to be a resounding "no, sorry, and not the depressing film either; but what the hell did you expect?"
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on 21 December 2007
"Allow me to be frank at the commencement" says a wonderfully plummy english voice as the film opens ... and frank it certainly is! Not one to watch with young kids around (no matter how "mature" you think they are) and certainly a film with which to keep an open mind.

As the gorgeous voice carries on, you are both suprised by the extreme frankness of the monologue and the fact dawning upon you that the actor speaking these words is american. Mr Depp has you enthralled.

If you have waded through previous reviews, then you will have got the gist of the story (17th century rich boy's downfall through sex, drugs and wild living). I just wanted to add my small voice to the many who say this is a must-see film. If you have a hang-up on american actors playing englishmen, put them to one side. The casting is superb; the use of natural or candlelight to shoot it inspired; and Michael Nyman's soundtrack sublime. This is the best feast for eyes and ears that I have experienced for a very, very long time.
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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.
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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.
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on 7 April 2017
Brilliant film exploring serious issues of human nature. Very well made with outstanding performances by the cast.
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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!!!
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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.
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on 25 May 2010
When I started to view this,I worried that I'd been sent a pirate copy. Don't worry, it's an artistic thing. But it was a little over-used and the hand held visual wobbling made my tummy sore. A story badly told by the director; you'll find out why when you hear his commentary. It starts: "I'm going to speak for the next 2 hours.....". I thought he was joking; he wasn't: All the actors are "wonderful" and everything was done for a reason- deep artistic one too. I don't think I rate this director. He's forgotton to see if his bright ideas actually work: Swirling around Johnny (Rochester/Depp) when he makes his speech in parliament was plain silly. If I had the syphillitic problems he was supposed to have, I suspect I would not try to pace around on two crutches while doing my declaiming. Next time hire a camera-man!

Don't understand the suggestion of titillation; It was not in the least bit sexy and I suspect the bits that describe the clinchers in the relationships and the story must have ended up on the cutting room floor. I'm not surprised the editor had problems. If I were her I'd dodge this director next time round. Not a lot of discernment.

That being said It's worth a gander. The acting, when it was allowed, redeems this and I finished wanting to know more about poor Rochester.
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