November 20th, 2008

The Devil's Whore

Right but repulsive? Not a bit of it. Even free-born John Lilburne, even John Sim's murderous mercenary, even warty old Oliver Cromwell had "hair  like Jesus wore it"- and the battle scenes- all wafting locks and floaty garments-  were scarcely distinguishable from love-ins. 

The Devil's Whore looks gorgeous. And authentic. Right down to the poisonous, white lead make-up the society ladies plaster all over their faces. England was too tidy to film in- too expensive as well- and so South Africa stands in for it- contributing a landscape both familiar and alien- as if England had been stripped of its infrastructure and nine-tenths of its present population-  with big houses standing lonely in unmown grasslands under enormous skies.

The direction is cinematic. We are given images to detain us, images to hold onto and keep. A hung man pisses on his boots;  The devil leers from a dead tree, his huge tongue lolling from his mouth; the king watches from a small upstairs window as an officer is shot for cowardice in the yard below; the man's widow, our heroine, sprawls on the gravel as autumn leaves blow past her. 

And does it work as drama? Too early to say. This first episode had a great deal of explaining to do. A complicated historical background had to be sketched in, a large cast of characters to be introduced- but Peter Flannery's script keeps things moving and is never dull. Sometimes I wish it would linger more, that it would allow the characters more inwardness;  but there's still plenty of time.  Andrea Riseborough's Angelica is showing signs of being more than a figure in a pageant, Peter Capaldi's Charles I is already rivetting.

I had high expectations. They're still aloft.