The Libertine

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Review byMatthew Turner15/11/2005

Three out of five stars
Running time: 114 mins

The Libertine has superb dialogue and exceptional performances from its cast, but it drifts a bit towards the end and fails to push the required emotional buttons that might have pushed it into greatness.

The Background
The Libertine is based on both the true story of the second Earl of Rochester and the acclaimed stage play by Stephen Jeffreys, who also wrote the screenplay for the film. It’s produced by John Malkovich, who took the role of Rochester on stage and persuaded Jeffreys that it would make a great movie.

The Story
The film is set during the comedown after England’s 17th century Restoration, under Charles II (John Malkovich). Johnny Depp plays John Wilmot, the second Earl of Rochester, who regularly scandalizes London with his outrageous behaviour, usually involving sexual escapades and explicit poetry (often simultaneously).

When Charles II commissions him to write a great work of art for a visiting French ambassador, Rochester can’t help himself and produces a fantastically obscene stage production that lampoons the monarchy.

The Good
The performances are superb. Depp is stunning as a man who squanders his soul, his talent and his body, while Malkovich is exceptional as Charles II, underplaying the role to beautiful effect. Rosamund Pike finally gets a chance to show us some proper acting and Kelly Reilly continues to impress with a surprisingly moving performance. Samantha Morton also proves a worthy companion to Rochester and shows unsuspected depths of talent.

The Bad
The plot meanders considerably towards the end and ultimately fails to engage on an emotional level, fascinating though Rochester’s story undoubtedly is. The film is also not helped by a distinctly murky visual style, which aims at muddy realism but ends up with a canvas that is dull and uninteresting to look at.

The Conclusion
In short, The Libertine is worth seeing for the performances and the witty dialogue, but it’s ultimately a little bit disappointing, considering what it could have been. Worth seeing, though, particularly for the spectacularly obscene stage show.

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The Libertine
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Content updated: 18/08/2019 06:20

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