Early reviews of Desperate Romantics were fierce and direct, and highlighted the layered “cheesiness” of the production.
After episode one I could see what those old sofa critics meant, but like most first instalments it is all merely introduction, a set up, a welcoming journey into what we can expect: characters, setting and narrative.
Episode one was rather gooey with cheese. A fondue concoction of layered dairy product, but it was an easy route into the life of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (Rossetti, Millais and Hunt), and history lesson 101 of the rebel artists and their unsettled movement.
You cringe and shudder in places at Peter Bowker’s writing and Paul Gay and Diarmuid Lawrence’s direction. After all, this follows on from the bold, gritty and entirely realistic dramatisation of the Iraq war in Bowker’s, Occupation.
The switch into a slower paced storyline and spoon-fed history (open wide), means you learn a thing or two, which can’t be a bad thing. This is BBC costume drama remember.
The remaining five episodes were just as informative, fingering out into the personal and professional lives of the individuals, where Byronic exploits and a new wave of artistic expression await the three young protagonists:
* John Everett Millais (played by Samuel Barnett) is highly talented, a loving and natural painter who later marries John Ruskin’s wife, Effie Gray (Gray’s marriage to Ruskin was annulled in 1854 on the grounds of his “incurable impotency,”).
* William “Madman” Hunt (Rafe Spall) is a dangersome man. A traveller, a vagabond, a child of God and highly religious. Fighting, and often succumbing, to his sexual desires. He achieved some early note for his intensely naturalistic scenes of modern rural and urban life.
* Dante Gabriel Rossetti (Aidan Turner), leader of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. A brooding and passionate, wild man of an artist. A poet. A struggling talent who married the Brotherhood muse, Elizabeth Siddal, in 1860, only to lose her to an early death caused by Laudanum addiction. Rossetti’s art was characterised by its sensuality and its medieval revivalism
Barnett, Spall and Turner all hit the mark in their portrayals, art at the heart and sexual exploits in their……well, tight and paint blotched paints. There’s some serious nudity too. Serious as in boobies and bottoms and curvaceous artistic shapes.
Notable performances also by Mark Heap as Charles Dickens and Tom Hollander as John Ruskin. Also, Sam Crane as Fred Walters, in a leading role and the narrator and honorary member of the Brotherhood.