DIRECTOR: KEN RUSSELL
COUNTRY: ENGLAND 1986
CINEMATOGRAPHY: MIKE SOUTHON
MUSIC: THOMAS DOLBY
CAST: Gabriel Byrne (Byron), Julian Sands (Shelley), Natasha Richardson (Mary), Myriam Cyr (Clare), Timothy Spall (Polidori)
SUPER FEATURES: Different way of telling some sort of history?
The stories surrounding the Byrons's and Shelley's that abound, and have been turned into many a myth, are looked at, here, as a link into the creation of the novel of Frankenstein. This film, is the story of the forces that created some literature, the best known of which is Mary Shelley's opus work.
But looking at these romantic writers, in the mountains of the Swiss alps, amidst many thunderstorms, is a bit more than one can really expect, under the hands of the director Ken Russell. The film starts and ends as a freak show. And in between, it REALLY is a freak show. But then, what price creativity, it seems...???
In a suggestive ambience, and amidst many creative binges, this acting ensemble manages to bring forth a bit of the feeling, and lines, that are so famous to many people in the world of literature. I doubt that anyone will appreciate the context through which any of this is done, specially the literati, but much of it has been documented, and told in many stories regarding these romantic heroes and their women, and their jet set life style. The fact remains, that both Byron and Shelley became two of the best poets of the 19th century, and that Mary Shelley's novel was magnanimous, and scared the wits of all of those writers.
The story, that became within the story, is basically what this film is about, and although the imagery is a bit on the weird side, it does kind bring about the many sides of things. Shelley is a bit of a flake, but inspired. Byron is serious, but his seriousness creates some lovely rhymes. Polidori, is a gay, disturbed person, a doctor who decries not having been able to become an alchemist. And the women, well, at first they were just the women. Mary had a long history of political intrigues, her parents having been famous for the women's rights movement in England. Clare was a rich girl having some fun.
The story suggests that their meetings included many sexual adventures, but given the stature of their work later, it is hard to believe that sex was all that their get togethers were all about. The film tries to bring out that point, but gets lost in the shuffle. We do end up looking at things as a bit of the jaded minds at work, all the time.
Gabriel Byrne as Byron, is interesting. Julian Sands as Shelley, comes off as a bit effeminate, and I wish that someone had infused a bit more of the poetical mind. Natasha Richardson as Mary Shelley is the most interesting of them all, in that she is the curious type amidst it all, and a bit of the nurse trying to keep everyone together.
In the hands of the director Ken Russell, this is an interesting endeavor, and probably one of his less celebrated orgies of visual garbage, but the film is a bit on the loony bin, kept there because the characters inside are a freak show by any standard, even if they were famous. It's a sad treatment, because there is much more literature, than mere words, that affected all of these people, in order to create the minds that changed literature at the time. This, is obviously missed in the hands of Ken Russell, or perhaps we don't care anymore, unless it is a freak show in the first place.
Interesting, but then again, only if the story of the times appeals to your sense of curiosity, as to how these creative forces came together and helped each other write. The one thing that the film does not clarify, is that Byron insisted that some of these meetings be done STRICTLY for writing purposes. The results are famous. The film will be forgotten.
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