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.