Thursday, July 23, 2009

In Defense of the Desperate (Romantics)

Ruskin and Effie

I watched the majority of Part I last night on YouTube, thanks to the posted videos I linked. And I have to say...I rather enjoyed it. Granted, perhaps I would feel differently if it was focused on the lives of William Morris, Jane, and Edward Burne-Jones (my personal icons within the PRB), but although I shook my head a bit at some of the liberties, I felt it was still a good show.

To get them out of the way, a few things that bothered me.

  • The music was just horrible. During even slightly witty scenes, I half expected a 'wah wah wah' trumpet to start playing. Quite distracting, I thought.
  • The length of time it took for the PRB to create their masterpieces was totally shoved under the carpet. It was implied that works like Christ in the House of His Parents were created virtually overnight in a rush for the fictional exhibition. I understand that rushing things for the sake of the story line happens constantly in film, but this just irked me a bit.
  • The whole scene with Ruskin checking out the PRB's work, and the fact that Ruskin so despised Rossetti's work at that meeting. From everything I've seen, Ruskin encouraged Rossetti's genius. Also, Dante comes off as an utterly talentless hack who is only transformed into talent through Lizzie.
Now, things I DID especially like.

  • The portrayal of Ruskin and his relationship with Effie. This particular love triangle is one of my favorite in PRB history, since it has such a lovely happy ending (at least for poor Effie). I thought they portrayed Ruskin's conflicted thoughts on womanhood, and Effie's sad confusion over her husband's actions quite well.
  • Lizzie Siddal! Everyone has commented how grateful they are to the production that Lizzie is portrayed as intelligent and strong-willed, instead of a drooping wallflower with half-closed lids. Of course, within the production, this is probably in part to emphasize the change that comes over her as her laudanum addiction worsens.
In regards to the artists themselves, it did bother me at first the way they all seemed to be whittled down into a single characteristic: Hunt is holy and proper, Millais is sweet and charming, Rossetti is rakish and flirtatious. But as I drifted off to sleep last night after finishing the last video, it dawned on me that in some ways, this plan of attack is rather in-keeping with the artists themselves. After all...what was one of the greatest hallmarks of Pre-Raphaelite art, if not their symbolism? The way they whittled subject matter down into a single moment of allegory?

Overall, the show takes numerous liberties with the historical story of the Pre-Raphaelites when there's really no need to at all. But does it distract from the overall story of these determined young talented men who so revolutionized the art world of their day? I am, overall, thankful for this production, which I hope will spark more interest in the Brotherhood and their fascinating lives.


Medieval Muse said...

I thoroughly enjoyed it and think it is very well cast. In agreement that the main characters do seem a bit one-dimensional, but we are seeing them from their very "brainstorming" beginnings. But it works as a balance of personality strengths and weaknesses within the group. When Rossetti is at his most confrontational, level-headed Fred is there is smooth ruffled feathers and becomes the group's spokesperson and champion. Effie is so very beautiful and those intimate scenes with Ruskin are almost hard to watch, but very effective. Also love that Lizzie is no shrinking violet.

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

Dearest Grace,
I have been so wrapped up, I didn't see the Youtube but I will today. Your review is superbe...(have you ever, ever thought of writing professionally as a critic???)I emphasize with over-punctuation here because your really should consider this vocation. Anyhow, I will check out the video. Thanks to you, I have a much better or at least deeper understanding of the life behind this art that I love so much. Thank you friend! Anita

Stephanie Pina said...

My fears about how Lizzie would be portrayed are not put at ease after watching the youtube videos. She was spirited and likable!

helen said...

I thought you might like this site. It is part of the catalog for a pre-raphaelite photography exhibition

Grace said...

Hi Helen, you have me curious now...I didn't see any link?

Linden Sidhe said...

Anita, I heartily agree that Grace makes a phenomenal critic! I've been awed by her reviews for years now.

I was also a bit irked by the one-dimensional characters, but I tried to remember that this was the first episode, and there already hints to deeper and more... multi-faceted... personalities. Most series start out this way- we just happen to already know more about the characters! I definitely chuckled at the 'inventiveness' and 'liberties' that were taken, and I hope that they stay matters for a wry grin while the rest of the story develops and unfolds, instead of taking over and smothering what is a wonderful story without embellishment!

In short, I agree with Lisa on all points. *grins*

Stephanie Pina said...

I just reread my comment and realized I made a dreadful mistake! I meant to say that my fears WERE put at ease!

Grace said...

Thank you Linds and Anita!

Stephanie, I figured it was a mis-type, since we've both raved about the characterization of Lizzie elsewhere :D

Jamie said...

Even though I think this show is pretty bad, I am still enjoying it! :-) Lizzie Siddal's beautiful hair keeps me watching. John Millais seems to be portrayed as a right drip in it! That is not the impression I get from the great man's statue outside the Tate Britain! :-) The guy playing Millais in the series looks like he should be the next Dr Who! :-)

BBC 4 did a recent three part tv series on the PRBs that is well worth a watch. And I have heard that Jeremy Paxman is doing a series about the PRBs too, so all is not lost.

English Bob (London)

helen said...

Sorry! I must have neglected to paste!