Anyone been watching ‘Desperate Romantics’ on BBC2? I had (wrongly) spurned it initially as a hokey attempt at updating a period of art that I’m particularly fond off, but have had my wrists slapped HARD after giving it a chance and finding it to be a bit of an addictive jolly romp. The script whacks along with a knowing wink and a lot of slap and tickle – there are acres of heaving bosoms and buttocks amongst repressed gasps as the coterie create art and intense poetry. The ‘Brotherhood’ of the said Romantics cut a frock-coated swathe through 19th century London. Rossetti, Hunt, Ruskin, Morris, Millais et al are all drawn in broad strokes, but ‘DR’ sticks close enough to fact (presumed though some of it is) to give it the sniff of authenticity whilst allowing the script by Peter Bowker (he also wrote the fabulous Blackpool) to slap along at great, FUN pace. That’s the bottom line – ‘DR’ is fun, lighthearted, enjoyable and sexy – frothy ‘nonsense’ (and that’s not to damn with faint praise) – I’m loving it. There’s also something fantastic about the sumptuous way the script treats its female characters. Most are the lovers, muses and wives of the Brotherhood, but instead of squandering their roles as ‘assistants’ and mere background to the art, they’re given a voluptuousness and life that makes them glow. These are not women as accessories, regardless of whether they are prostitutes or repressed spinsters, these are sharp, real, (in some cases) sexual creatures who are not afraid to speak their mind or satisfy their desires. Amy Manson as the laudanum-addicted redhead Lizzie Siddal, and Jennie Jacques as Annie Miller are particularly good.
There’s no doubt that many unpleasant and less salubrious areas of 19th century life are glossed over and romanticised, but this never set out to be a political piece or social commentary, but instead, revels in being an indulgent, saucy, peek behind the Pre-Raphaelite curtains.
I don’t care if it’s not entirely truthful, in fact I admire it for not being fact-bound. The only bad thing I can say about it, is that it’s giving me serious hair-envy. Damn their flowing tresses.