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The Libertine

Review courtesy of SA Movie & DVD Magazine

By James O'Ehley

Lord John Wilmot... Rebel without a band...

Historical accuracy is a liability instead of an asset in this painfully exact recreation of 1670s London...

Streets are muddy and disgusting, a perpetual smog hangs over the city, and interiors are dark and underlit. In fact, The Libertine is probably the most underlit movie this critic has ever seen. Even scenes in the English countryside are set at dusk for some inexplicable reason. Colours are muted brownish and grey, and the film stock is constantly grainy. Electricity couldn't come soon enough...

Atmospheric? Oppressive and soul-deadening more like. This perpetual greyness makes one wish for at least one colourful outdoor scene with some green countryside scenes. Alas, it is not to be: the movie's quest for historical correctness is unremitting and unfortunately also extends to the film's dialogue, which is largely in the English of the time. Whether this sort of almost obsessional recreation of the era has to be saluted or not is another issue since the dialogue is difficult for ears accustomed to modern English to follow, and one wonders what the point of the movie is since it is hard to care for the film's unpleasant main protagonist played by Johnny Depp. Depp shows again that he is one of his generation's finest actors, but still can't elucidate what exactly it was that drove his character to such self-destructive extremes.

''There's a moral to the story in there somewhere,'' a fellow critic remarked after the movie. ''But I can't quite put my finger on it.'' Most audience members will probably also be nonplussed as to what it is they're supposed to learn from this rather gloomy history lesson besides that alcoholism is bad for you and you'd be wise to not insult any British sovereigns in any plays that they might commission from you.

I'm sure there is a reason why this film was made in the first place, but this plodding and pointless affair is like one of those dull history lessons that made you switch to another school subject as soon as possible...

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