Friday, 3 February 2012

The Pre Raphaelites On Screen: Desperate Romantics and Dante's Inferno

I've loved the art of The Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood for some time now. Millais, Rossetti, Holman Hunt et al produced some of the greatest and iconic paintings we have.

Sadly I've never seen Ken Russell's 1967 BBC film Dante's Inferno (Again, why put these things on Region 1 for America yet not have them on Region 2 for the country they were produced in?! Grrr!) But I simply had to share some beautiful images from it, and compare and contrast them with the paintings they took inspiration from and the most recent PRB dramatisation, the wonderfully bawdy Desperate Romantics

Perhaps most famous is Ophelia by Millais, the model of whom was the divine Elizabeth 'Lizzie' Siddal

Siddal posed for Millais in the bath, as seen here in Dante's Inferno played by Judith Paris


 Siddal was played by Amy Manson in Desperate Romantics

Both are stunning actors each with a likeness to one of the most iconic muses in history

Rossetti and Siddal were not just artist and muse they were also tempestuous lovers. Rossetti was played by Oliver Reed in Dante's Inferno and by Aiden Turner in Desperate Romantics

Tempestuous because Rossetti was known for a wandering eye, and would also bed his model, Jane Burden who later married William Morris. She is only briefly used in the recent adaptation, but was quite pivotal in Ken's piece and played by the striking 60s model Gala Mitchell

 Gala looks remarkably like Jane

Sadly, spurred by Rossetti's inability to remain faithful or to fully commit to her for many years, Siddal became addicted to laudenum and, following a stillborn birth of their daughter, she succumbed to an overdose in 1862.

Overcome with grief, Rossetti enclosed in Elizabeth's coffin a small journal containing the only copies he had of his many poems. He purportedly slid the book into Elizabeth's red hair. By 1869, Rossetti was chronically addicted to drugs and alcohol. He convinced himself that he was going blind and couldn't paint and so began to write poetry again. Before publishing his newer poems he became obsessed with retrieving the poems from her coffin. Rossetti and his agent, Charles Augustus Howell, applied to the Home Secretary for an order to have her coffin exhumed. Done in the dead of night, Rossetti was not present. Howell reported to Rossetti that her corpse was remarkably well preserved and her delicate beauty intact. Her hair was said to have continued to grow after death so that the coffin was filled with her flowing coppery hair. The manuscript was retrieved and published, but he was haunted by her exhumation throughout the rest of his life.

This was done for dark laughs in Desperate Romantics, but Ken's piece went for the full gothic Grand Guignol horror (well it would wouldn't it?) and ultimately, the tragedy


Both adaptations have Rossetti present at the exhumation, but as stated this was not the case.

There is a third BBC adaptation, The Love School, from the 1970s, but this is even rarer than Ken's piece!

1 comment:

  1. Wow, great feature. I am sure those Ken BBC films were on dvd a while back. The exhumation is like a Hammer movie as Oliver's Rosetti goes down into the coffin and prizes the book of poems from the skeleton fingers and yes all that hair! Ken of course creates some great black and white images one won't forget easily.