The Libertine

The Libertine


Reviewed by: Josh Morrall

With almost all of today's celebrities pursuing temptation, the life and death of John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester (Johnny Depp), is depicted in an overly vile and brutal way, as the filmmakers assume the audience will fail to grasp just how controversial the young earl was.

At the beginning, Wilmot provides a prologue. He promises that "women will detest me and men will envy me." Perhaps this would have been the case had his life been presented from both an internal and external perspective. Instead, all of us are left detesting him. The life of a libertine is one that follows the live-hard-die-young philosophy. Yet, we only see Wilmot skulk about, occasionally making witty comments that do little to punctuate the long taxing scenes, which constitute the first half.

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The lack of tension can be blamed on Stephen Jeffrey's screen adaptation of his own play. He resists creating new scenes to liven up the flow of the film and opts for cutting down the length of the originals. This means that Laurence Dunmore's direction appears erratic, although he does evoke a magnificent performance from his principal actor.

Depp can almost always be relied upon to exceed expectation and The Libertine gives him the stage on which to show the extent of his potential. He delivers difficult and unrealistic dialogue with natural flair, matched only by John Malkovich, as Charles II, and excels in the single shot House of Lords scene. Whilst Depp, Malkovich and the talented Samantha Morton give high quality performances, the appearance of Johnny Vegas, as Sackville, irritates and nauseates in equal measure.

Dunmore does an admirable job at filming a script that, by its very nature, is not in the least cinematic. He shows flair with sweeping 360-degree pans and the extended use of rack focus, and, whilst the filming of the House of Lords scene is very expressive and skilled, its approach is confusing when compared with the rest. We are clearly not watching a film about the joys of living an exciting, if depressing, life of debauchery, so our point of view is not that of Wilmot after all - we are asked at the beginning to simply observe. And yet, Dunmore uses unsteady, often out of focus camera movements, communicating the director's state of mind in a film that presents itself as equitable. For me, this was unsettling and too little too late.

The Libertine is flawed, held afloat by its skilful ensemble cast (minus, of course, the useless Vegas). There was never much potential in Jeffrey's screenplay that thinks it is still on the stage and Dunmore's attempts at empathy fail to energise this slow moving film.

Allow me to take the liberty of saying it is not worth watching, unless you are a fan of Depp, who brings considerable weight to an otherwise empty theatre of the past.

Reviewed on: 23 Nov 2005
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The tragic, promiscuous, defiant world of a 17th century philandering philosopher earl.
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Chris ****

Director: Laurence Dunmore

Writer: Stephen Jeffreys, based on the play by Stephen Jeffreys

Starring: Johnny Depp, Samantha Morton, John Malkovich, Paul Ritter, Stanley Townsend, Francesca Annis, Rosamund Pike, Johnny Vegas, Richard Coyle, Hugh Sachs

Year: 2004

Runtime: 114 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


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