(director/writer: Ken Russell; screenwriters: from
stories by Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley/based on the memoirs of Mary
Wollstonecraft Shelley/Stephen Volk;
Southon; editor: Michael Bradsell;
music: Thomas Dolby; cast: Gabriel Byrne (Byron),
Julian Sands (Shelley), Natasha Richardson (Mary
Godwin), Alec Mango (Murray), Timothy
Spall (Dr. Polidori), Myriam Cyr (Claire), Andreas Wisniewski (Fletcher);
Runtime: 87; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Penny Corke;
"I'll take my Byron and Shelley straight."
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Russell ("The Devils"/"Tommy"/"Altered States") sets his lurid visual
ghost story film on a real event that took
place on June 16, 1816. The location is the Villa
Diodati, on the shores of Lake Geneva. Exiled
poet Lord Byron (Gabriel
Byrne) and his biographer-physician
Polidori (Timothy Spall) play host to the poet
Shelley, his lover Mary Godwin (Natasha Richardson), her
half-sister Claire (Myriam Cyr) and a few friends. The artistic guests imbibe
in incest, in laudanum, group sex, going
bonkers, showing off their childish antics in the mud
and using their nasty tongues as dueling weapons. A
lightning storm entreats the night, as the fops
perform a seance and conjure up their inner demons as
the mansion turns haunted. They tell each other horror
stories, as the real-life events lead to Mary Godwin,
Shelley's future wife, writing Frankstein, and Dr.
Polidori writing The Vampyre. The books became gothic
As far as I'm concerned, thank you, but no thank you, I'll take my Byron and Shelley straight. This fictionalized re-creation of the occurrence goes maddeningly weird under the direction of madman Russell, and goes trite with the script by Stephen Volk. Its silliness overwhelmed me and I experienced not much joy watching such an unhinged spectacle, as I found its literary values all but ignored for the sake of kitsch. It flaunts such risible dialogue, as one of the poets saying: "We are the gods now--we have dared to call ourselves creators!" There are also many tacky moments that include a mechanical belly dancer and the ladies stroking the heads of snakes.
REVIEWED ON 10/3/2011 GRADE: C+
Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"
© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED DENNIS SCHWARTZ