(director: Gerry Mailer; cinematographer: Kevin Phillips; editor: Kevin Phillips; cast: Edward Dawson; Runtime: 62; MPAA Rating: NR; Arts Magic; 2005)

“If you need a dose of Milton, this lively documentary should do.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A no-frills and no-nonsense documentary that tells why the 17th century John Milton’s Paradise Lost, an epic poem in blank verse, published first in 1667 in ten books and then in a second edition that followed in 1674 to be redivided into twelve books, was one of the greatest poems ever produced in England and that next to Shakespeare Milton is perhaps the country’s second best poet (not something I agree with, as I’m partial to William Blake as top dog and Willy in the second spot). The masterpiece was written by Milton after the fall of his beloved Cromwell’s Commonwealth, a movement he fully devoted himself to by writing political tracts and serving in its government.

The poem concerns the Judeo-Christian story of the Fall of Man: the temptation of Adam and Eve by Satan and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden and their bringing death to mankind. Milton’s purpose was “to justify the ways of God to men” and elucidate the conflict between God’s eternal foresight and free will. The blind poet wrote it after Cromwell’s Commonwealth collapsed and he felt Satan ruled the world, and sided with Satan (whom he considered as a proud being who defies his creator and wages war on Heaven, only to be defeated and cast down) until England can once again return to the pure world (Puritanism) of the time before man was tempted by his desires which led to his Fall from God. William Blake was a great admirer of Milton and said of Milton that “he was a true Poet, and of the Devil’s party without knowing it.”

The great poet, born into a prosperous Protestant family and educated by great tutors and a graduate of Christ’s College, Cambridge, was to be married three times (his first two wives died) and hated by all his children for being such a cold man. He was to live through the civil war started in 1642, the beheading of Charles I in 1649, becoming blind in 1652 because of glaucoma, the death of Cromwell in 1658, the restoration of Charles’ son Charles II in 1660, the plague in 1665 and the Great Fire in the London of 1666. In 1671 he published Paradise Regain’d and Samson Agonistes, and died peacefully in his sleep at age 65 in 1674—a fighter to the end for a Puritan Republic (without censorship and with religious freedom for all) and was vehemently anti-church, especially anti-Catholic.

If you need a dose of Milton, this lively documentary should do.