by Natasha Theobald
The best thing about this movie is that it may make you want to read the poetry of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth. The worst thing is its disregard for some of the generally accepted history of these two men, from the men themselves in their writing and those around them.Coleridge is depicted as genius unleashed. He is unable to write or concentrate without a counterbalance. He is given to experimentation with life, including drugs. He is given to fits of creativity on the drugs, envisioning, among other things, his dream of "Kubla Khan," which is thought by some to be the result of opium delirium. This assertion is taken to the next level in the scene in which his wife recommends laudanum, a tincture of opium, for a toothache. He takes a little, then a little more, spiraling gradually more out of control, inspired in his frenzy to knock out "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" in one night.
Wordsworth is dealt an unfriendly blow. He is shown as a talentless hanger-on who has nothing real to offer and sucks the lifeblood of those with real inspiration. He is rigid and snobbish, without any originality or creativity. He also has a severe case of writer's block. His motives, according to this movie, are fame and recognition. He is willing to crush the fragile, more artistic souls around him to better his place in the world and gain the attention he so desperately needs.
This is when I dug out the old Norton anthology. Wordsworth isn't my favorite poet, I must say. I was forced to read The Prelude in college, and I'm still not quite over it. But, I think he was handled roughly by the film. I am fully understanding of the need for artistic license, but I think when you are dealing with the reputation of actual historical figures, it is unfair and somewhat irresponsible to distort and disfigure the truth.
From what I know, which, admittedly, is very limited, Coleridge and Wordsworth were their own little mutual admiration society. They lived in close proximity to one another for years, meeting daily to talk for hours about poetry and art, composing together in a symbiotic give and take of language and thought. Coleridge was already using laudanum regularly, having been prescribed the treatment early in his life for pain of some sort. Lyrical Ballads, with a Few Other Poems, released in 1798, was the result of this collaboration. The film asserts that the work was primarily from Coleridge, but the book actually contained several poems from Wordsworth, including "Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey," my personal favorite among his work. They did have a falling out as in the movie, eventually, and reconciled some years later.
The movie is at its best when visualizing the poems themselves, making spoken word, music-like videos, bringing the ideas to life. We hear the voice of Coleridge speaking about the wintry landscape and see as the icy fingers crawl across the window glass. We see his vision of "Kubla Khan" brought to life in brilliant color. We are able to feel firsthand the affects of the drugs by what we are shown. We get to journey inside the mind of the artist.
Linus Roache is very interesting to watch as Coleridge. He has energy and life and makes the character easier to enjoy than his actions are to understand. John Hannah is Wordsworth. He plays the man as altogether unlikable, so it is difficult to like the man behind the man, as well. He is dry and reserved, making us wonder how these two ever found and learned to respect one another. Emily Woof brings fresh energy as Dorothy Wordsworth. Samantha Morton isn't given much to do as Coleridge's wife, Sara.The film has an interesting view of the celebrity of the poets. If you don't mind your history with a twist, there are engaging things to enjoy visually, and it is lovely to hear the poems read.
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originally posted: 07/18/02 14:05:54