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GOTHIC (director/writer: Ken Russell; screenwriters: from stories by Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley/based on the memoirs of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley/Stephen Volk; cinematographer: Mike Southon; editor: Michael Bradsell; music: Thomas Dolby; cast: Gabriel Byrne (Byron), Julian Sands (Shelley), Natasha Richardson (Mary Godwin), Alec Mango (Murray), Timothy Spall (Dr. Polidori), Myriam Cyr (Claire), Andreas Wisniewski (Fletcher); Runtime: 87; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Penny Corke; Vestron; 1986-UK)

I’ll take my Byron and Shelley straight.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Ken Russell (“The Devils”/”Tommy”/”Altered States”) sets his lurid visual ghost story film on a real event that took place on June 16, 1816. The location is the Villa Diodati, on the shores of Lake Geneva.Exiled poet Lord Byron (Gabriel Byrne) and his biographer-physician Polidori (Timothy Spall) play host to the poet Shelley, his lover Mary Godwin (Natasha Richardson), her half-sister Claire (Myriam Cyr) and a few friends. The artistic guests imbibe in incest, in laudanum, group sex, going bonkers, showing off their childish antics in the mud and using their nasty tongues as dueling weapons. A lightning storm entreats the night, as the fops perform a seance and conjure up their inner demons as the mansion turns haunted. They tell each other horror stories, as the real-life events lead to Mary Godwin, Shelley’s future wife, writing Frankstein, and Dr. Polidori writing The Vampyre. The books became gothic classics.

As far as I’m concerned, thank you, but no thank you,I’ll take my Byron and Shelley straight.Thisfictionalized re-creation of the occurrence goes maddeningly weird under the direction of madman Russell, and goes trite with the script by Stephen Volk. Its silliness overwhelmed me and I experienced not much joy watching such an unhinged spectacle, as I found its literary values all but ignored for the sake of kitsch. It flaunts such risible dialogue, as one of the poets saying: “We are the gods now–we have dared to call ourselves creators!” There are also many tacky moments that include a mechanical belly dancer and the ladies stroking the heads of snakes.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”