Desperate Romantics

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Desperate Romantics
Desroms.jpg
Publicity still portraying (left to right) Samuel Barnett as John Everett Millais, Sam Crane as Fred Walters, Aidan Turner as Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Rafe Spall as William Holman Hunt.
GenreCostume drama
Written byPeter Bowker
Directed by
Starring
Composer(s)Daniel Pemberton
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original language(s)English
No. of series1
No. of episodes6
Production
Producer(s)Ben Evans
Running time60 minutes
Broadcast
Original channel
Picture format1080p (HDTV)
Original run21 July 2009 (2009-07-21) – 25 August 2009 (2009-08-25)
External links
Website
 
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Desperate Romantics
Desroms.jpg
Publicity still portraying (left to right) Samuel Barnett as John Everett Millais, Sam Crane as Fred Walters, Aidan Turner as Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Rafe Spall as William Holman Hunt.
GenreCostume drama
Written byPeter Bowker
Directed by
Starring
Composer(s)Daniel Pemberton
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original language(s)English
No. of series1
No. of episodes6
Production
Producer(s)Ben Evans
Running time60 minutes
Broadcast
Original channel
Picture format1080p (HDTV)
Original run21 July 2009 (2009-07-21) – 25 August 2009 (2009-08-25)
External links
Website

Desperate Romantics is a six-part television drama serial about the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, first broadcast on BBC Two between 21 July and 25 August 2009.[1]

The series somewhat fictionalized the lives and events depicted. Though heavily trailed, the series received mixed reviews and dwindling audiences.

Overview[edit]

The series was inspired by and takes its title from Franny Moyle's factual book about the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Desperate Romantics: The Private Lives Of The Pre-Raphaelites.[2]

Moyle, a former commissioning editor for the arts at the BBC,[3] approached writer Peter Bowker with the book, believing it could form the basis of an interesting television drama.[4] Although Bowker had a self-confessed "horror of dramatised art biography", he felt that Moyle's book offered something different, viewing the Brotherhood's art largely through the filter of their tangled love lives.[4]

Discussing the series' billing as "Entourage with easels", Moyle said: "I didn't pitch it as 'Entourage with easels' ... I pitched it as a big emotional saga, a bit like The Forsyte Saga. Having said that, I think it was a useful snapshot – a way of getting a handle on the drama."[3] The series has also been billed by the BBC as "marrying the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood to the values of Desperate Housewives."[5]

Desperate Romantics was not the first time the lives of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood had been dramatised for television. In 1967 Ken Russell had directed Dante's Inferno, and in 1975 there was The Love School – a six-part serial first broadcast in 1975. Whereas Bowker's drama about the PRB was an adaptation of Franny Moyles' book, The Love School (scripted by John Hale, Ray Lawler, Robin Chapman and John Prebble) was adapted into a novel published by Macmillan in 1975. The new dramatisation was heavily influenced by the earlier series.[6]

Cast[edit]

Episode list[edit]

EpisodeDirectorWriterOriginal air dateRatings (millions)[7]
"Episode 1"Paul GayPeter Bowker21 July 2009 (2009-07-21)2.61
Fred Walters introduces the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais and William Holman Hunt, to their perfect model: hat shop girl Lizzie Siddal. Fred persuades Lizzie's parents to allow her to model for the Brotherhood, using his mother to vouch for them. After being rejected by the Royal Academy, the Brotherhood decide to stage an exhibition of their own, and invite influential art critic John Ruskin to attend. Ruskin, who has previously rejected their work, is finally persuaded of their promise, and his encouragement silences their other critics, including the establishment figures who run the Academy. 
"Episode 2"Paul GayPeter Bowker28 July 2009 (2009-07-28)2.13
Having caught the attention of John Ruskin, the Brotherhood attempt to persuade him to buy their work. Millais, preoccupied by thoughts of Ruskin's wife Effie, fails to prevent Lizzie falling unconscious with pneumonia while posing for him as Ophelia, leaving Rossetti bereft at the prospect of losing the woman he loves. When she recovers, her father dashes Millais' hopes of finishing his masterpiece by refusing to allow her to model for the Brotherhood again. On payment of compensation, he relents. The resultant painting is a triumph for the Brotherhood. 
"Episode 3"Paul GayPeter Bowker4 August 2009 (2009-08-04)2.15
The Brotherhood have secured John Ruskin's patronage, but their personal lives are still rife with problems. Fred longs uselessly for Lizzie, who remains besotted with an evasive and lazy Rossetti, once again struggling to apply himself to creating the elusive "masterpiece". Hunt continues to find a conflict between his religion and his desire. Meanwhile, under Ruskin's instruction, Millais begins The Order of Release, an evocative painting of Effie; however, he quickly realises that there may be another agenda involved. Spurred on by Rossetti and Hunt, he decides to pursue a sexual relationship with Ruskin's still virginal wife. Annie Miller warns Millais's friends that Ruskin may be planning to set him up as co-respondent in a divorce case, and the tables are turned when Effie obtains an annulment of her marriage on the grounds of non-consummation. She quickly persuades Millais to marry her in order to preserve her good name. 
"Episode 4"Diarmuid LawrencePeter Bowker11 August 2009 (2009-08-11)1.92
With Hunt away in the Holy Land, Fred's promise to take care of Annie takes an unexpected turn when she seduces him. Upon his return, an oblivious Hunt, impressed by Annie's improved deportment and command of etiquette, asks her to marry him. However, he soon realizes that this new stage in their relationship has made him unable to become physically aroused by her. Feeling that their marriage has become impossible, he rejects Annie and, changing his mind again too late, loses her to rakish aristocrat Lord Rosterley. Meanwhile, the prospect of becoming Ruskin's new protégé prompts an excited Rossetti to propose to Lizzie, but he is disappointed and jealous when Ruskin proves more interested in her potential as an artist than Rossetti's and he is obliged to take up a teaching post. 
"Episode 5"Diarmuid LawrencePeter Bowker18 August 2009 (2009-08-18)1.96
Ruskin is displeased by Rossetti and Lizzie's partying and debauchery, funded by his patronage, and orders them to focus on their work, instructing Lizzie to paint each day at his house and Rossetti to complete a church mural. A restless Rossetti embarks on an affair with prostitute Fanny Cornforth, who proves a sensual source of inspiration for his art. Lizzie falls ill as a result of her heartbreak over Rossetti's behaviour and her increasing use of laudanum; Rossetti, under the impression that she is dying, promises they will marry when she recovers. Rossetti invites his students and admirers William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones to join the Brotherhood after they complete the mural for him, just as Ruskin arrives to inspect it. Rossetti and Lizzie marry, and Morris introduces the waitress who caught Rossetti's eye on the morning of the wedding as his sweetheart, Jane Burden. 
"Episode 6"Diarmuid LawrencePeter Bowker25 August 2009 (2009-08-25)1.76
Following her marriage to Rossetti, Lizzie is distraught to discover that Ruskin has lost interest in her as an artist and is now tutoring Rose la Touche instead. Rossetti tries to change Ruskin's mind and warns him that his relationship with the underage Rose may damage his reputation. Millais suggests that the Brotherhood should all move into his new house as an artists' colony. Rossetti takes Morris and Burne-Jones to Cremorne Gardens, where he sees Annie, who has returned to prostitution. He pleads with her to return to Hunt, but when she does so, it is to blackmail Hunt by threatening to publish his sexually explicit love letters. Fred warns Lizzie about Rossetti's attraction to Jane Burden, but she throws him out of the house after he tries to seduce her. After a public argument with Lizzie, Rossetti gets drunk with the Brotherhood. When he takes Fred home with him, intending to make his peace with her, he finds Lizzie dead, having deliberately overdosed on laudanum. He and Fred debate whether or not to destroy Lizzie's suicide note. Fred takes it, but cannot bring himself to tell her family. Rossetti implores Jane to marry Morris and paints Beata Beatrix as a memorial to Lizzie. At her funeral Rossetti throws his manuscript poems into her grave. When Fred, Morris and Burne-Jones praise the buried poems, he decides to dig them up again. Fred is disgusted with Rossetti and finally rejects him. 

Works featured[edit]

Each episode focuses around the composition or exhibition of a particular painting by a member of the Brotherhood; these images are available to explore on the BBC website with an audio commentary:[8]

Prominently featured are also the following works:

Other notable images include:

The poem Rossetti writes for Lizzie as she recuperates from her ordeal in Millais' bath tub is "Sudden Light" (c. 1853–1854, published 1863).[9] The final stanza, which Rossetti reads aloud to Lizzie before they first make love, appears in the 1870 edition of Rossetti's Collected Poems.[10] Also featured are "Newborn Death" and "The Kiss". The verses read at Lizzie's funeral by her sister are from Lizzie's own poem "Dead Love" (c. 1859).[11]

Historical accuracy[edit]

One of the disclaimer slides that appear at the beginning of each episode.

Each episode begins with the disclaimer: "In the mid-19th century, a group of young men challenged the art establishment of the day. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood were inspired by the real world about them, yet took imaginative licence in their art. This story, based on their lives and loves, follows in that inventive spirit."[12] In an interview for The Independent, Moyle noted that Bowker's adaptation of her source material required a "chronological sleight of hand" turning "the story that plays out in the book over 12 years into something that feels as if it's taking place over a couple of years – to keep up the pace, to make it feel modern."[3]

Reception[edit]

When Desperate Romantics was first shown on BBC Two it attracted 2.61 million viewers.[7] The first episode received mixed reviews; Tom Sutcliffe in The Independent described the series as "an off-day" for writer Peter Bowker, adding: "It was never quite recklessly anachronistic enough to suggest a defence of predetermination for those moments in the script that seemed more like a spoof of an artistic biopic than a genuine attempt to rise above its limitations."[25] Serena Davies wrote in The Daily Telegraph that the episode: "sadly didn't go far enough in conveying to the viewers how much the Pre-Raphaelites’ art contrasted with what had gone before it."[26] Caitlin Moran, reviewing the episode for The Times, described it as "so bone-deep cheesy that it appears to have been written with Primula, on Kraft Cheese Slices, and shot on location in Cheddar."[27]

The Guardian review described the first episode as: "a rollicking gambol through a fictionalised Victorian London with a narrative as contemptuous of historical reverence as its rambunctious subjects were."[28] Andrea Mullaney, writing for The Scotsman, also considered it: "a rollicking romp ... it's rather good fun", but cautioned: "historical purists will have to clench their thighs as it plays fast and loose with accuracy – much like the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood themselves, for all their vaunted insistence on painting the truth of nature."[29]

Viewing figures for the second episode dropped to 2.13 million. The third episode attracted 2.15 million viewers, and ratings for the fourth fell to 1.92 million. Viewing figures for the fifth episode rose to 1.96 million viewers. The sixth and final episode of the series attracted 1.76 million viewers.[7]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Desperate Romantics - BBC
  2. ^ Desperate Romantics press pack: introduction BBC Press Office. Retrieved on 2009-07-24.
  3. ^ a b c Gilbert, Gerard (18 July 2009). "Models, muses, lovers: Bringing art history to the screen". The Independent. Retrieved 2009-07-25. 
  4. ^ a b Bowker, Peter (16 July 2009). "'I always was a desperate romantic'". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2009-07-25. 
  5. ^ Jeffries, Stuart (21 July 2009). "Sex and rebellion: Desperate Romantics writer Peter Bowker on his new BBC drama". The Guardian. Retrieved 2009-07-25. 
  6. ^ a b Chloe Johnson, "Presenting the Pre-Raphaelites: From Radio Reminiscences to Desperate Romantics", Visual Culture in Britain, 1941-8361, Volume 11, Issue 1, 1 March 2010, pp. 67 – 92
  7. ^ a b c Weekly Viewing Summary. See relevant channel and week. BARB.
  8. ^ Desperate Romantics – BBC
  9. ^ Rees, Joan. The Poetry of Dante Gabriel Rossetti: Modes of Self-Expression. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1981
  10. ^ Rossetti, Dante Gabriel. Poems. London: F. S. Ellis, 33 King Street, Covent Garden, 1870
  11. ^ First published by William Michael Rossetti in "Miss Siddal's Poetry", Ruskin: Rossetti: Pre-Raphaelitism 1854–62, 1899, pp. 150–6
  12. ^ Armstrong, Stephen (5 July 2009). "BBC2 drama Desperate Romantics on icons among Pre-Raphaelites". London: The Sunday Times. Retrieved 2009-07-25. 
  13. ^ Desperate Romantics press pack: Sam Crane BBC Press Office. Retrieved on 2009-07-25.
  14. ^ The Guardian report on the discovery of Turner's drawings
  15. ^ J. G. Millais, Life and Letters of John Everett Millais, p. 154
  16. ^ Secher, Benjamin (22 September 2007). "Ten things you never knew about Ophelia". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2009-08-03. 
  17. ^ These words are spoken by Effie to Millais in episode three when she reveals that she is still a virgin.
  18. ^ Lutyens, M., Millais and the Ruskins, p. 191
  19. ^ Rose, Phyllis, Parallel Lives, 1983
  20. ^ Moyle, Franny, Desperate Romantics: The Private Lives of the Pre-Raphaelites, 2009
  21. ^ Hewison, R. John Ruskin, The Argument of the Eye
  22. ^ Lurie, Alison. Don't Tell the Grown-Ups: The Subversive Power of Children's Literature, 1994
  23. ^ Batchelor, J. John Ruskin: No Wealth But Life, 2000
  24. ^ Dictionary of National Biography (1901), "William Morris"
  25. ^ Sutcliffe, Tom (22 July 2009). "Last Night's Television – Otto: Love, Lust and Las Vegas; BBC3; Desperate Romantics, BBC2". The Independent. Retrieved 2009-07-24. 
  26. ^ Davies, Serena (22 July 2009). "TV and radio review: Expenses: the MPs' Story". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2009-07-24. 
  27. ^ Moran, Caitlin (25 July 2009). "Desperate Romantics is desperate TV". London: The Times. Retrieved 2009-07-25. 
  28. ^ A date with Desperate Romantics The Guardian. Retrieved on 2009-07-22.
  29. ^ Mullaney, Andrea (18 July 2009). "Television: Desperate Romantics - Storyville: The Time Of Their Lives". The Scotsman. Retrieved 2009-07-24. 

External links[edit]