Artistic license – to watch this six-part series, you absolutely need to know the meaning behind that term because at the beginning of each episode you will read:
“In the mid-19th century, a group of young men challenged the art establishment of the day. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood were inspired by the real world about them, yet took imaginative license in their art. This story, based on their lives and loves, follows in that inventive spirit.”
Desperate Romantics is an interesting look into the young lives of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt, and John Everett Millais, who were a group of English painters (and poets). To learn about their painting and inspiration, you might want to read the article on Wikipedia.
This particular series is a bit raunchy, to say the least, with explicit sex scenes and lots of nudity. Definitely in the “R-Rated” category. However, beyond the bare skin and sex, is a complex set of characters from painters, models, art critics, prostitutes, and admirers of these three talented men who go about London with their radical ideas of artwork. If you’ve seen the movie and read my review of Effie Gray you’ll see a semi-repeat of the story of John Ruskin (played by Tom Hollander) and his wife who eventually has their marriage annulled because her husband would not consummate it.
The rakish of rakes is Rossetti, played by Aidan Turner, who is quite the character (and often copulating and nude). He’s lazy, a womanizer, unrepentant liar, and disloyal to close friends, yet eventually becomes a brilliant artist in his own right. His love affair and subsequent marriage to his model, Lizzie Siddal, is heartbreaking. Here is her true story on Wikipedia. One of his art pieces is below.
“Lady Lilith” (1866) Dante Gabriel Rossetti
John Everett Millais’ story (played by Samuel Barnett), who painted Ophelia is quite interesting. Lizzie Siddal models for him while floating in a bathtub of water. Millais is so engrossed in his work that he doesn’t realize the water has gone cold and she nearly drowns and later becomes ill. Millais is the youngest of the three, innocent, and endearing in nature. His career is launched early but falls into ill favor with his former patron, Ruskin, because he marries Effie. His famous painting of “Ohpelia” is below.
“Ophelia” (1852) John Everett Millais
William Holman Hunt (played by Rafe Spall) is attracted to fallen women but wrestles with his spiritual beliefs and subsequent guilt. He’s an odd character to say the least, having attempted to reform a prostitute that he wants to marry. When she breaks his heart, he’s so pathetically sad that it’s quite funny. One of his works is below.
“His Rienzi” 1848 – William Holman Hunt
Then there is a fourth character, Fred Walters, who is excited to hang around these talented individuals. He finds Lizzie Siddal by accident and approaches the brotherhood to introduce a perfect model. Throughout the story he struggles with his emotions and love for Lizzie, and is constantly at odds with Rossetti and for good reason.
The series is delightful, to say the least, and well acted. Unfortunately, it didn’t fair very well in the eyes of the critics and dwindling audiences while it aired. It’s a shame, frankly, because I think it could have gone on for a few more seasons with an entertaining story line. The last episode brought me to tears of sorrow but then led me to laugh at the final declaration from Fred Walters, who narrates the story as well.
I’m not quite sure why this series tickled my fancy. It is rather scathingly risque in many scenes, but the characters are all so vastly interesting and intriguing with their nuances. I suppose as an author, I’m always fascinated with human behavior and this series is filled with characters and their oddities.
You may or may not like this BBC release, which is now streaming on Britbox. It’s not for the sexually faint, but if you like complex characters with their many foibles with incredible talent, you may like it quite a bit.