Desperate Romantics (2009) The Miniseries on the Pre-Raphaelites

Do you know this feeling, you love something so much you don’t even want to watch or read the last bit to make it last? And then, because you like it too much, you rush through it and then… It is over. That is how I felt with Desperate Romantics. I think this is the best mini-series I have ever seen. It had everything I like. Art, 19 century London, dark alleys, pre-technology, beautiful interiors, idealism, eccentrics, intellectuals, beauty, passion, tragedy… I admire the work of the Pre-Raphaelites. I do love their paintings. John Millais´ Ophelia has haunted me since I can think (yes, I know Reviving Ophelia…).

The series starts way before Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who is the leader of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, has come to any fame. Hunt and Millais are the famous ones. Especially Millais. But Millais hasn’t painted his Ophelia yet so his greatest achievement is still to come.

One day a young journalist, knowing that the brotherhood is always on the look-out for models, sees the young  and beautiful Elizabeth Siddal in a shop. He tells the brotherhood about her and from the moment they lay eyes on her, all their fates will change for ever. Lizzie will become the Pre-Raphaelites´most famous model, the model for Millais´ Ophelia, she will become Rossetti’s muse and lover and she will become the protegé of John Ruskin the eminent art critic. It was one of her greatest wishes to paint herself and Rossetti teaches her.

Lizzie is a tragic figure. She is desperately in love with Rossetti who is all but faithful. Most models are young and extremely good-looking prostitutes. To be surrounded by them is a temptation for a week man like Rossetti.

Apart from following the story closely, Desperate Romantics captures the atmosphere and translates the intensity of the brotherhood and their life into something that is understandable for us today. These guys rock, as we would say today. I think the score that is very modern but still fitting contributes to make this such great viewing. Even though it is intense and tragic at times, it is also a very funny series. Millais was apparently a great painter but silly and very naive. We also encounter Dickens and learn a lot about the Victorian society. The Pre-Raphaelites were true non-conformists. They were excessive and experimented with drugs and explored alternative lifestyles. A bit like the hippies later.

I liked it so much that I am not even sure if I will watch it again, if you know what I mean.

I will certainly start those two books very soon:

Desperate Romantics by Fanny Moyle and

Lizzie Siddal: The Tragedy of a Pre-Raphaelite Supermodel by Lucinda Hawksley

I few years ago I read  a novel by the French writer Philippe Delerm, Autumn. I´m afraid it has not been translated and that is a shame as it captures the world of the Pre-Raphaelites so well and describes it in a  haunting and very poetical manner.

11 thoughts on “Desperate Romantics (2009) The Miniseries on the Pre-Raphaelites

  1. Is this Hollywood’s mini series?
    What is pre-raphaelite?
    I know how it feels bout loving something so much and wish it never ends, that is how I feel about One Piece.

    • No, it is British. Probably one reason why it is so good. At the time when they were painting, you had to be accepted by the academy to be successful and they did not care, they painted a very different style, a lot of old influences, before the painter Raphael. They were very daring and avant-garde. Many of them were dirt poor. Rossetti and Lizzie really struggled to survive for a long time. You can see all this in the series. I think it teaches you quite alot about the tme as well. Must have been hard for women, not many choices if you wanted to be free. I liked the colors and the spirit. What was on my mind the last days was the question: why this series, why did I like it so much. Would I like to go back to those times, no technology (no more blogging). When we are really touched by something it must say a lot about ourselves. No? What about you and One piece? (I will have to try it, even though it is long)

  2. Aaa..British, no wonder.
    Thanks for the explanation. I don’t know if I like to go back to the world without internet, I like writing in my blog a lot.

    When we are really touched by something. It must say a lot about ourselves

    I guess you can say it like that. One Piece talks about the power of friendship and never hesitate to ask for a hand from your friends. There are so many good quotes from that book. One of my favorite ones is ‘No one was destined to be born completely alone in this world, go and find your friends who will always protect you…run and live and find your friends, Robin’.

    • The Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood also have a very strong bond, they are friends, linked by the same passion and they helped each other. I like tales about friendships a lot as well.

  3. I’m going to have to get this from Netflix–the Pre-Raphaelites have always piqued my curiosity. I read a book (fictional) about one of the other models who married William Morris. The film sounds like serious eye candy as well as interesting in general.

    • I am curious to hear what you think of it. William Morris is in the series too, of course. And his wife. I haven’t seen anything I liked this much in a long time even though there were quite a few I enjoyed agreat deat like Enid or the Young Victoria. But this is closer to me sort of, I could identify much more. With Lizzie and with Rossetti. The whole brotherhood is so appealing. And Ruskin too. Fascinating character. I could go on and on.

  4. Pingback: Elizabeth Siddal and the pre-Raphaelite in Autumn by Philippe Delerm « Book Around The Corner

  5. This does look like a fun one and right up my alley. I added it to my lovefilm list. I don’t know much about this bunch so it will be fun to watch it while living in London. And it fits in with my Dickens challenge. Thanks!

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