I apologize for taking three or so weeks off. The flurry of activity around Oscar time necessitated a short break.
I cannot recommend The Libertine unconditionally. Written first as a play by Stephen Jeffreys and played on the stage at Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, the film version of the tale stars Johnny Depp as John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester. It is a period piece with an R rating for strong sexuality including dialogue, violence and language. Wilmot is a poet with three significant interests in his life: the theatre, drinking and sex. He is a friend to King Charles II, played by John Malkovich. Samantha Morton plays Mrs. Barry, a woman with promise as an actor in the theatre, and to whom Wilmot offers his coaching services and affections.
The film is not pleasant to watch. The 1600’s in England are depicted as gray and wet, and filled with citizens engaged in nothing particularly noble. Wilmot’s obsessive focus on sexuality leads to his writing and producing a ridiculous play with sexual themes, and he delights in insulting King Charles and other royal guests with the performance. He is a self-indulgent man who succumbs to alcoholism, and unfortunately, the viewer has to watch him slowly die of the results of venereal disease and drinking. This process is unkind to the normally attractive Johnny Depp.
Depp is such an extraordinary actor, and delivers a strong performance as Wilmot, but there are far better films than this one to watch if you’re a fan of his, or are wanting to see his acting for the first time (Pirates of the Caribbean, Ed Wood, Chocolat, Finding Neverland). Samantha Morton is also a gifted actor, and I’d recommend two of her other films over The Libertine, which are In America and Sweet and Lowdown. Both Depp’s and Morton’s acting abilities stand out in this bizarre period piece, but not enough to redeem the depressing tale.