Wednesday, 22 February 2012


The poster is based on Henry Fuseli's painting The Nightmare. A scene replicated in the movie.

Why do I love Ken Russell’s work so much? Could it be the phallic symbols, the religious imaginary or the barely concealed sexual eroticism? My latest re-assessment of the great man’s work is Gothic (1986). It has a soundtrack by the 80’s electronic New Pop instrumental genius Thomas Dolby and relates the legendary tale of Percy Shelley (Julian Sands) and his second wife Mary’s (Natasha Richardson) visit to Lord Byron’s villa besides Lake Geneva, Switzerland in 1823. Byron (Gabriel Byrne) was a British poet but was best known for his excesses including running up huge debts, having numerous love affairs and it was rumoured that he had an incestuous liaison with his half sister all before his death in Greece at the young age of 36, a man described as mad, bad and dangerous to know. Joining the Shelley’s at the villa were Claire Clairmont (Myriam Cyr), the stepsister of Mary and occasional lover of both Percy and Byron, with whom she had a child, and Dr John William Polidori (Timothy Spall) the English writer and physician who has been credited as the creator of the fantasy fictions vampire genre and said to have written The Vampyre the first book of the genre written in English. What a great set of characters for a Ken Russell movie I hear you say!

Russell's imagery is always startling!

While at the villa and fuelled by laudanum all four descend into drug-induced excess, conjuring up their innermost demons and challenging each other to write a horror story. From this its alleged came Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Polidori’s vampire short story. The film itself has a wonderfully Russellesque nightmarish climax and lots of horrifying imaginary the best being Clairmont’s breasts which appear to have eyes where her nipples should be. Even the actor’s cuts and bruises look authentic. Compulsive viewing for any fan of this much-missed director and why do I like Russell’s work so much? Watch this inspired piece of filmmaking and you will understand.

Natasha Richardson's debut feature film.

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