Gothic Lunacy: Lord Byron’s Party

DATELINE: A Dark & Stormy Movie


Polidori, Shelley, and Byron, aka Spall, Sands, and Byrne


If you want to learn about the dark and stormy night in 1816 that resulted in the creation of Frankenstein and Dracula by Lord Byron’s pals, you might look elsewhere.

Ken Russell’s hothouse and nuthouse movie about Percy and Mary Shelley and Lord Byron is pure Gothicnonsense. As was the style of Russell back in 1987, you had a psychedelic version of biography and history. It is not satisfactory.

The cast is somewhat exemplary:  Gabriel Byrne as lame Byron, Julian Sands as pretty Shelley, Timothy Spall as off-putting Dr. Polidori, and Natasha Richardson as demure Mary! Wow, you almost expect the acting alone will carry the film.

However, the director hijacks every moment and even has cast members chewing on rats. We thought the film turned into that rat-festival moviel, Willard.And, inexplicable pythons wrap around suits of armor. Yep, it’s Ken Russell.

Instead of a dark and stormy night where these highly creative people choose to write great books, we have a literal ghost story. The demons are really around every corner. You almost feel sorry for the servants who basically take a powder during the latter part of the movie to avoid these koo-koo birds.

The summer without sun inspired the writing of Frankenstein and Dracula. Byron took credit for Polidori’s work, and Byron couldn’t write prose. The stepsister of Mary is around for crazy moments in which the sexual peccadilloes of the characters is tested.

We have more than your usual homoerotic connections between the men, including some fairly passionate kisses, but Julian Sands was never prettier. Gabriel Byrne seems to have bigger breasts than the women stars. Timothy Spall is actually slim.

The film becomes increasingly erratic and difficult to watch, as befits what did in the style of Ken Russell ultimately. We had hoped to see something truly fascinating, but not quite on the level of a train wreck.







Tuning into Turner


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We feel a great privilege to have seen Mr. Turner with grumpy Timothy Spall as JMW Turner, one of the 19th centuries most intriguing and under-appreciated seascape artists.

Like most artists or creative people with more than a streak of genius, Turner was boorish, unsocial, and a curmudgeon. He had an eye for color that made up for his personal imperfections. Beneath the surface, he was a man true to himself.

Timothy Spall is perfection, giving one of those tour de force performances that too few people saw, and which denied him the accolades and Oscar he deserved for this work.

A man who did not mince words (when he used them), Turner did all for his art. And, the film is luscious with sunrises and sea scenes that Turner took pains to depict as accurately as his brushes could.

Mr. Turner was odd, to say the least, being a hopeless daddy’s boy—and Daddy pleasantly made sacrifices unto old age to make sure conditions were appropriate for his son’s work.

The film portrays the 19th century in all its class-conscious detail, and the film reeks of atmosphere when required. But, the exquisite goes hand in glove with the ugly.

Small encounters highlight the film. When Turner visits a new fangled photography parlor, he is fascinated and appalled. He mutters he is grateful the camera does not take pictures in color.

If one critic claimed Turner was sublime and ridiculous, so was the world in which the painter worked.

Moving as slowly as the pace of life back then, you must fall into the cadence and morals of the era. The film is a treat in how it transports the viewer into another world.

Seeing a dozen cookie-cutter action films can be tolerated if we have the occasional masterpiece to savor. This continues a streak of brilliant biographical films we have so enjoyed—Theory of Everything, Imitation Game, and Foxcatcher, have restored our faith in superior filmmakers. Add Mr. Turner to the list—and it is a banner year.