Desperate Romantics Or Carry On Canvas?

So there I was in front of the telly watching BBC2’s Desperate Romantics, described by its makers as ‘Entourage with easels’. Really? I’d say, ‘The Inbetweeners with breeches’ – but what do I know? In the mid-19th century – we’re told – a group of young men challenged the art establishment of the day. The pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood were inspired by the real world, yet took imaginative licence in their art. Nice touch of foreshadowing because Desperate Romantics takes imaginative licence and runs with it faster than Usain Bolt.

If you like your bodice-rippers bawdy, raunchy, full of booze and debauchery and set to annoyingly intrusive incidental music, look no further. However, despite the copious amount of naked flesh and sexual acts, I had to stick my remote control under a pillow to resist zapping through the channels. There was a time when being presented with gratuitous nudity and fellatio on a TV show (as opposed to a porno – it’s always more exciting and risque when it’s regular telly) was enough – it’s not when you pass puberty. You then start to look for things like in-depth characterisation, strong dramatic sequences, compelling storytelling, originality – the vitals Desperate Romantics didn’t quite deliver enough of.

As narrated by the fictional Fred Walters (Sam Crane), the men-behaving-badly are Dante Gabriel Rossetti (Being Human’s Aidan Turner), a priapismic, Byronesque, hedonist who described himself as: "artist, poet, half-Italian, half-mad!". Exposition as advertising strapline – gotta love it. I kept expecting him to toss… wait for it… his flowing locks before turning to camera and pouting: "Because you’re worth it."

Next we have the intense William Holman Hunt (Rafe Spall – son of Timothy), amateur pugilist and also known as ‘Maniac’. So far, I am utterly uninterested in him. Maybe all that ‘intensity’ is intensely off-putting. Finally there’s sweet John Millais (The History Boys’ Samuel Barrett), the impossibly talented, pampered genius who tends to be the butt of his fellow artists’ jibes.

However the entire show is stolen by Tom Hollander as repressed critic John Ruskin, a quintessentially-repressed Victorian if ever there was one. Now he did feel like a layered character, a rounded character – genuinely intriguing. You couldn’t help but feel for his poor wife (as played by Zoe Tapper), begging him to make love to her, only to receive a cold refusal. Little wonder he dismisses one work of art with the words: "You’ve painted a woman displaying sexual appetite and that is never attractive."

Finally, there’s the woman who, in a sense, was the raison d’être for the entire movement: muse Elizabeth Siddal (portrayed by Amy ­Manson from Torchwood). A headstrong shop girl with cascading red hair, she became one of the art world’s most famous models.

After getting over the shock of viewing a period drama not adapted by Andrew Davies, for the next hour I played my favourite game of ‘spot the anachronism’. Alas, no satellite dishes in the background or distant sound of sirens but there was suspiciously modern dialogue mixed in with an approximation of the Queen’s (Victoria) English. I swear I even heard an ‘OK’. Anyone ignorant of the real pre-Raphaelites is advised to take an evening class… or failing that, check Wikipedia. If you accept that you will learn little of real note, this rollicking romp of rump passes the hour pleasantly enough – just.

Today I am mostly lovin’ – I finally managed to catch an episode of Sky1’s Bones with Stephen Fry in it. Having heard so much about his casting, I had a feeling that his character, Dr Gordon Wyatt, would turn out to be a most English of Englishmen. And I was right. Then again, maybe that’s just Stephen Fry.

Today I am mostly hatin’ – Can someone please shut Katie Price up? She was on Loose Women today – ‘loose’ being the operative word. The woman is a loose canon and she’s not doing herself any favours.

MSN Editor Coops

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8 Responses to Desperate Romantics Or Carry On Canvas?

  1. Antonio says:

    "Reminds me of a Jack the Ripper comedy"

  2. jo says:

    "I swear I even heard an \’OK\’." Not really a problem as OK and Okay have been around since the 1830s! Agree with you about Katie Price/Jordan though – please put some clothes on and go away.

  3. Coops - says:

    Aha! Thanks Jo, I stand corrected. 🙂

  4. Tina says:

    Why is it the BBC are totally incapable of making a period drama that is actually about the character\’s actual work, for which they were famous in the first place? Yes these people had sex lives too, but it would be nice to see a drama about their work for once, not how impressive they were in the bedroom…

  5. christine says:

    I totally agree with you about Jordan !!! We really are NOT interested in her whingingchristine x

  6. Olivia says:

    Another example of anything historical being \’sexed up\’ recently in order to make history more interesting. I felt it worked with Casanova (the David Tennant version although I guess that was the whole point of the story!) but I haven\’t seen this one so can\’t comment. I\’ve even seen it happen on recently made Agatha Christie adaptations! There was a murderous lesbian couple in one recently and the murderer definitely wasn\’t a lesbian in the book! And don\’t get me started on the Pride & Prejudice film with Keira Knightly! The scene where they were in the gazebo when it was raining? What WAS That?! Can we expect to see Mr Darcy ravishing Elizabeth in the morning room in the next adaptation?! It doesn\’t bother me unless it actually detracts from the point of the story and from what you\’re saying this one does. From the sounds of it I\’m glad I didn\’t watch it with my mum!

  7. Gilly says:

    I have gradually got used to these historical adaptations after being totally put off by the inaccuracies of The Tudors (hair gel etc), but now I am a great fan, and watch for pure entertainment which is the whole point. These are not history lessons! I particularly liked the incidental music in The Desperate Romantics, the costumes were great and the characters likeable with good contrasts. Nothing else on TV comes close (in my opinion). Must agree that I wouldn\’t want to watch it with my parents or children though!Looking forward to seeing the Wuthering Heights series coming up this weekend. As for Jordan. . . yes maybe she is a good business woman but apart from that she is a disaster and I am sick of hearing about her disgusting and immature behaviour.

  8. angela says:

    Love Desperate Romantics-how lovely to give them lives-and not just their painting(as beautiful as it is).If you want to watch a deep prog about their work,find a documentary.This might just introduce a new appreciation to the Pre-Raphaelites without getting \’Oh so Dahling\’ about it!

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