Derek Jarman's film often traded on his background as a painter and
as a set designer. The look of each of his films is unique yet appropriate.
He often mixed anachronistic elements with the historical in his work, which
ranged from SEBASTIENNE (1979), an experimental portrait of the Christian
martyr St. Sebastian, to CARAVAGGIO (1986), a biopic of the Renaissance
artist, to EDWARD II (1992), his ambitious adaptation of Christopher Marlowe's
16-century drama about the British monarch. The real-life Edward, who ruled
England from 1307 until his deposition in 1327, was the first to hold the title
of Prince of Wales. He was an extravagant and frivolous man who may or may
not have been homosexual. Certainly, he tended to favor males, like Piers
Gaveston, a knight thought to wield undue influence over the monarch.
Marlowe dramatizes their relationship and it is easy to see why the story
would appeal to the openly gay Jarman, who by the time of filming had been
diagnosed as HIV-positive. (He would die from complications from AIDS in 1994.)
Jarman and his fellow screenwriters Ken Butler, Stephen Clark-Hill
Stephen McBride and Antony Root update the setting to 1990s England and the
story doesn't lose any of its power. Edward (Stephen Waddington) is the king
who has spurned his queen, Isabella (Tilda Swinton in a marvelously icy
performance) and taken up with his male lover Gaveston (Andrew Tiernan).
That relationship doesn't sit well with the dukes and earls, particularly
Mortimer (Nigel Terry) who joins forces with the queen to get Gaveston
banished from the court. There's a particularly poignant moment when
Edward tells Gaveston he must leave and Jarman underscores it with an
appearance by singer Annie Lennox performing Cole Porter's classic
"Every Time We Say Goodbye." It's a heartbreaking moment that shouldn't
work but it does, and work beautifully. Eventually Gaveston returns but
again he runs afoul of court intrigue. Edward eventually is deposed and
imprisoned by Isabella and her lover.
There is so much in this movie that it would take a long article to
deconstruct it. For those interested in such a detailed analysis of this
and other Jarman films, I would recommend Jim Clark's website.
What I can say is that Jarman's EDWARD II was one of the most
audacious movies I've seen. The sparse sets designed by Christopher Hobbs
are slabs of rock and dirt floors coupled with the contemporary clothes
(designed by Sandy Powell) serve to create a timeless quality. The actors
all excel in their roles, especially Swinton, who earned the Best Actress
Prize at the Venice Film Festival. (The DVD of EDWARD II includes her
impassioned tribute to the director on what would have been his 60th birthday
in a speech she delivered at the Edinburgh Festival in 2002.)
Jarman's films are not easy ones for audiences to sit through, but
those who do are never disappointed. EDWARD II has to rank as one
the director's best and those who seek it out will not be disappointed.
Rating: B +
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence and sexuality,
and for some language
Running time: 90 mins.
|© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.