Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

15 March 2006


Laurence Dunmore's film of The Libertine is terrible. Truly awful and I'm not kidding. The script was by Stephen Jeffreys (I recently directed his adaptation of Hard Times) and adapted from his play of the same name. The main trouble is that though the play is funny—very funny even—the movie is very rarely, if ever, funny. I found it frustrating to even stay tuned in. From the very first scene, I realized that what I was hearing was comedy, except that its delivery and direction differed so far from comedy that no one in the audience was laughing at all.

I don't fault Mr. Jeffreys: his play is mostly intact and the lines are still funny. I fault director Laurence Dunmore, who absolutely botches this material. His direction and all the performances are played as thought they were the most serious thing in the whole world, and no one seems to realize that this is a comedy.

The film stars Johnny Depp (who is fairly good), Rosamund Pike (who I liked a lot), Tom Hollander (excellent as always), Samantha Morton (whatever) and John Malkovich (whatever). The music (and I had guessed this after five minutes of listening to the score) is by Michael Nyman, and (once again) it's all wrong for the film. It's slow, plodding and insistent to the point of being annoying. And the lighting: the whole thing is shot like some kind of Horror B-picture with a lighting budget of $50.00. I know it's period lighting and "candles were the only light they had back then" and all of that rot, but if I can't see what's going on, what is the point of being at the movies?

All of the questions The Libertine asks (chiefly, what is an artist's—a genius's—debt to society and himself? What does he owe us?) are interesting, but Laurence Dunmore doesn't know why he's asking and he can't bother to make any of his propositions even the least bit intriguing.

Avoid this picture at all costs.

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