Keats, Shelley, Wordsworth, and Coleridge will all be remembered for their poetry. Byron will be remembered for his poetry as well, but he may be remembered even more for his rebellious, seductive, creative, and heroic life–a life as notable for its scandals as its literary achievements. A peer of the realm, a lover whose relationships with married women, young girls, and even his own sister rocked society, and a successful poet and writer in his own lifetime, Byron was also fashionable and very social. The club foot which made him slow his walk never affected his wit or his desire.
Perfect material for a film by Ken Russell, yes?
A little background on the poet Lord Byron, a key figure in the English Romantic Movement:
In Childe Harold, we see him stating the Romantic credo:
There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep Sea, and music in its roar:
I love not Man the less, but Nature more.
In his dynamism, sexuality, self-revelation, and demands for freedom for oppressed people everywhere, Byron captivated the Western mind and heart as few writers have, stamping upon nineteenth-century letters, arts, politics, even clothing styles, his image and name as the embodiment of Romanticism.
Also from The Poetry Foundation (if you ever need to know anything about poetry, this is a great place to start!), here is a less flamboyant recounting of the “lost weekend” in 1816 that led to the creation of two seminal works in what would become known as Romantic literature: Frankenstein and The Vampyre:
On his trip he was accompanied by Fletcher the valet, his personal physician, Dr. John Polidori (“Pollydolly”), Robert Rushton, and a Swiss servant. He also traveled with a huge coach, copied from one Napoléon captured at Genappe. On the twenty-fifth they sailed from Dover bound for Ostend. Byron would never see England again.
The party reached Geneva on 25 May 1816. Byron was unaware that waiting for him were Claire Clairmont, pregnant with his child, Shelley, and Mary Godwin. A genuine friendship and mutual high regard flourished between the two poets. They passed the time agreeably by boating on Lake Leman and conversing at the Villa Diodati, which Byron had rented, with its commanding view of the lake and the Juras beyond. In this environment Mary wrote Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, published in 1818.
“Pollydolly”? Don’t you love it? So, there is plenty of the real life man and the events surrounding him that would allow a director and an actor to go pretty wild some 170 years later. Several critics have decided that Ken Russell intended for this film to show the imaginative and philosophical battles these artists engaged in as they fought the classicism of their past and looked forward to a different way of viewing the world and their role in it. If you can give yourself up to Russell’s imagery and Gabriel Byrne’s theatricality, then you might see them attempting to bring the internal struggles of creative minds to some kind of external expression.
Or not. In the long run, I think Harlan Ellison is right:
Yet I treasure this film. So may you. If you, as am I, are out of your head… you will cleave to this tortured bit of cinematic epilepsy because it is ALIVE. It is yet another crime of passion committed by Ken Russell, and his sort of berserk creativity has fallen on such hard times in this age of Reagan and yuppie sensibility, that simply to be exposed to the ravings of an inspired madman is cathartic. I came away from GOTHIC with my soul on fire.
“Crime of passion.” Well, he could be talking about Byron himself, you know.
Gabriel Byrne gives us his most Byronic profile, his best wide eyes, his secret smile, his haughty reserve, his perverse sneer, his lusty look, and his plummiest vocal tones in this portrayal of one of England’s finest poets.
And the Gothic Mega Movie Page offers a feast of official posters, stunning screencaps from Lozzie, promotional images, the trailer, fan videos, reviews and more, so take this invitation to dive into “riot and ruin and pandemonium” and enjoy!