director/writer: Derek Jarman; screenwriters: Stephen Mcbride/Ken Butler/based on a play written in 1592 by Christopher Marlowe; cinematographer: Ian Wilson; editor: George Akers; music: Simon Fisher Turner; cast: Steven Waddington (Edward 11), Andrew Tiernan (Gaveston), Nigel Terry (Mortimer), Tilda Swinton (Queen Isabella), Kevin Collins (Lightborn-the Janitor), Roger Hammond (Bishop of York), John Lynch (Spencer), Jody Graber (Prince Edward), Annie Lennox (Singer), Dudley Sutton (Bishop of Winchester), Jerome Flynn (Kent); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Steve Clark-Hall/Antony Root; Criterion Collection; 1991)
“Bares its anger at the ongoing repressive and homophobic nature of the Thatcher British government.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Derek Jarman’s (“Caravaggio”/”Sebastiane”) most accessible but probably not his best film. It was made a few years before the openly gay director died of AIDS. It is based on the 16th-century play of Christopher Marlowe that is set in the 14th century and turned into a contemporary dress adaptation, where its stark mood bares its anger at the ongoing repressive and homophobic nature of the Thatcher British government by pulling out what is relevant from Marlowe to modern times. It’s played in sparse sets with blank walls and dirt floors, and the cast garbed in modern costumes to reflect in a Brechtian way the role of class consciousness. The music performed by the Elektra Quartet casts a proper dark spell, and at one crucial point in the narrative Annie Lennox of the Eurythmics belts out Cole Porter’s “Every Time We Say Goodbye” to serenade the gay lovers. Though things don’t always jibe and the characters sometimes seem like puppets with Jarman pulling the strings, nevertheless the film has a rawness and power of purpose that is gripping. It wins the battle through its fiery spirit and guts of conviction, as Jarman never falters in showing not only the brightness of his protagonists but also their dark side.
After his father’s death, an out of the closet, Edward II (Steve Waddington) antagonizes his earls and barons and his icy French queen, Isabella (Tilda Swinton), by sending for his upstart peasant lover Gaveston (Andrew Tiernan) to share the throne with him and bestows upon him unwarranted titles of power. The scheming baron Mortimer (Nigel Terry) parades around in an army uniform and plots with the desperate queen the demise of the gay relationship; the nobles sit around a conference table in business suits as if they were heads of corporations and vent their antigay bias; Isabella turns up in a different elegant designer’s dress for every scene and conspires to suck the life out of her hubby; and, Edward’s loyal base appear as the real-life radical gay activists group OutRage, who are sexually active and politically motivated to upset the apple-cart.
The film is meant to shock and succeeded in taking a whack at British complacency over sexual freedom and repercussions involved in gay relationships among the ruling class. Besides the stunning visual effects, the stylized performances were well-presented in making the most out of their strong characterizations.
History tells us that in 1326 Queen Isabella led an army against King Edward II leading to his violent collapse. https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/
REVIEWED ON 4/8/2004 GRADE: B https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/