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Desperate Romantics conclusion

Episodes 5 and 6, in which we abandon all pretense that this is a true ensemble project and just run with the Gabriel and Lizzie Show. Which is fine if you're me, but not exactly what it says on the tin, and it shortchanges some interesting chapters in the others' stories.

There's an interesting scene between Lizzie and Effie, which gives a nod to the theory that Lizzie was essentially programmed into hypochondria by the Victorian fetishizing of the female invalid. And whether that's the case or whether there was a chronic physical ailment in the mix (which seems to me to have been the case), there's little question that she sometimes played it up for guilt leverage against Gabriel.

But this Lizzie is never an invalid at all. Here we have a really quite hardy Lizzie, whose only illness is addiction, believably suffering most of the same frustrations and despair as her historical counterpart. Which is fascinating to me, as I tend to focus (as she did at the time) on her health being the primary day-to-day frustration. But you can take that out of the mix and she still arrives at the same place, thanks to a toxic romance/marriage (for the record, I do believe they never stopped loving each other, but also never knew in the first place how to do so in any kind of healthy structure), well-meaning friends with "remedies" to problems she didn't necessarily have, and of course the laudanum. Which I'm not wild about this narrative bringing in via partying (thus putting the onus on Gabriel, when there are already plenty of things that really were All His Fault) in lieu of misguided medical advice, but it's a relatively minor quibble.

I do love that the focus is always on Lizzie's ambition, and how that is what gets thwarted at every turn. I get the impression that she could deal with Gabriel's infidelity and extravagance if it just didn't get in the way of her being able to work and grow.

Lizzie's death, I think, is handled very effectively. I'm not entirely comfortable with her waiting despondently at home while Gabriel was out carousing with the guys yet again, only because it's so significant to me that she was out with them the night of her overdose IRL. (She went home after dinner instead of going on to the theatre as planned.) It's just a matter of the story structuring events differently -- her RL death came when she seemed to be recovering from the depression that followed the stillbirth of their daughter, which DR omits entirely, and was in fact pregnant again -- but the image just doesn't sit quite right for me.

I do understand why it was done that way -- it needed to be at least something of the shock to the audience that it is to Gabriel, slamming him down from the latest crazy he's dragging Fred into. That impact would have been lessened if we'd seen her earlier.

I'm also totally on board with their going with the suicide note for dramatic purposes, even though, based on the available evidence, I'm at least 85% convinced it never actually existed. And I quite like that they don't specify what it says. (Obviously not a direction to take care of her nonexistent brother. I'm actually quite amused by all the shrunken and missing families. For all we can tell, Gabriel sprang full-grown from a fairy ring for the express purpose of making a bunch of friends and driving them all nuts. Which would actually explain a lot.)

I do think Gabriel's finding her Really Most Sincerely Dead is a missed opportunity, though I get it from a clarity standpoint. But the fact that she was unresponsive but actually still breathing until early the next morning is, to me, far more harrowing, and no doubt contributed to Gabriel's graveside breakdown and temporary insistence that she wasn't really dead.

For his part, Gabriel is entertaining as hell through the first two-thirds of the series, but gets much more interesting in the last two eps. Mostly because it's the point where his friends have long since left him in the dust maturity-wise and are finally losing patience with his irresponsibility. The point of "Awww, of course you have no time to actually paint around all the dodging creditors and banging whores and dragging your buddies into crazy schemes and shooting for the Britain's Most Drawn-Out Engagement award, but dude, you are now over thirty and this is just pathetic and not even REMOTELY cute anymore."

Which brings me to a new level of impressed with Aidan Turner, since everything I've seen up to this point indicates that his default setting is "ridiculously appealing," and he rose admirably to the challenge of being considerably less sympathetic. Through the first four eps I rolled my eyes at Gabriel a lot but was always amused. But when he actually expected anyone to be on his side because someone was "taking advantage of my shallow nature," I sincerely wanted to clock him. Though that's another one I not only can't imagine the historical Gabriel admitting out loud, but can't really picture him admitting to himself.

IIRC, however, we do have a primary source claiming to have heard him admit out loud that he finally agreed to marry Lizzie because he thought she'd die before he got her to the altar. Which actually works very well when wailed in the throes of wedding-day panic. Also hilarious: the sheer terror on his face while discovering that Fanny Cornforth goes in for rather more aggressive sex than he's previously encountered. (Unfortunately for those of us interested in all the women of the PR circle, she's otherwise pretty thinly characterized.)

For my money, though, the hands-down strongest sequence in the entire crazy whirlwind of a series is the dialogue-free montage just after Lizzie's death, with Hunt and Millais contemplating their studies of her as Sylvia and Ophelia respectively, and Gabriel feverishly pulling Beata Beatrix from a blank canvas. I especially like him sorting through dozens of sketches of Lizzie and discarding them all, instead closing his eyes to summon her image and paint from memory. (Which we know, in reality, he had been doing for years, and continued to do for years after her death.) The imagined "ghostly" visit could have been too much, but the sincerity of both actors (aided by the shot setup and lighting) sells it right on the money. Hell, yeah, I cried.

I was wondering how they were going to cram so many events into the last two eps, and a big part of the answer is that they didn't. The fast and loose got faster and looser, and the decision to confine all the action to London was probably a wise one in overall storytelling terms, but still resulted in some weird things.

Most notably, the fabled Oxford mural adventure is scaled back to a commission for a single panel in a local chapel. It is at least foisted on Gabriel by Ruskin, mostly as a test of whether he can actually manage to buckle down and work (which he does, more or less), which is kinda-sorta how it happened IRL. It seems like a big missed opportunity to me -- if anything the PR circle ever did would fit the show without alteration, it's four overgrown adolescents overrunning their budget, eating their hosts out of house and home, and generally terrorizing Oxford society for two months. Of course, that could be a whole miniseries in and of itself.

So instead we have Gabriel painting and drinking and brooding by his lonesome while Lizzie is busy basking in Ruskin's patronage. Burne-Jones and Morris do appropriately enter the narrative at this point, though they're underdeveloped and just a cut above comic relief. Particularly Morris -- he was an odd duck, yes, but this is a little overly. Ned's just kind of a non-entity.

Thankfully, they did write in Gabriel's we-don't-need-no-stinkin'-research error of painting directly on the unprepared plaster. The best bits of that sequence are without a doubt his panic and despair upon discovering that all his work has faded into the wall, and then Ned and Topsy covertly saving his bacon. At which point, of course, there is Yet Another Boisterous Pub Scene, in which he unilaterally declares them members of the Brotherhood while Hunt and Millais are sitting right there going "Um, WTF?"

The weirdest result of all that, though, is the transplant of Jane Burden to a London background. She's a waitress in a cafe, and also already being courted by Morris. It was very jarring to me at first, since so much of the key to me of Jane and how she fit into the PR circle is that she was from a country background, very different from any of the wildly varied personalities already in the mix. About the only thing this character has in common with the real Jane is brown hair and strong eyebrows.

Which ends up not mattering as much as I thought, because they somehow manage to set up the Morris/Jane/Gabriel triangle in exactly the right configuration of weird. And in fact, it seems clearly written to set up a later series covering the Kelmscott Manor years. Not that I've heard anything about the Beeb having any such plans, but it would be interesting to see. And really, it would be wise to give it a while if they did have such a thing in mind, since the first series covered about twelve years and everybody is playing pretty much the upper limit of their age range by the end of it.

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
studiesinlight
Mar. 29th, 2010 04:04 am (UTC)
All Through D.R.
Red House/Klemscott Manor as Effie's idea? Okay, but...

Hullo. All through to the end now! Thank you so much for sharing. It's a racetrack rush through such beautiful scenery.

I wondered how on earth they would end things -- where to call a halt in this helter-skelter through decades -- but of course it's exhuming the poems. I'm almost a little surprised that they didn't second-hand quote Gabriel saying that if Lizzie could have put them in his hands herself, she would have -- it would have backed up the larking sense at the end that he has barely learned anything at all (of which I'm not quite sure what to make).

>"Yet Another Boisterous Pub Scene, in which he unilaterally declares them members of the Brotherhood while Hunt and Millais are sitting right there going "Um, WTF?""

This bit pleased me, because, as Hunt and Millais told it, Rossetti is single-handedly responsible for the brotherhood being seven instead of two, and having a name and monogram, and (according to Hunt) losing its focus... rounding up new people is Rossetti's true vocation. Of course it never happened at all, at all, but it felt right.

I didn't personally appreciate the extra clowning up of Morris along with the too-early overt straying of Jane. It felt like too much against a man who bore much from his idol and his adored wife, who so little respected him -- and not a hint of who he truly was to anyone who did not already know. (I know there's not room for the Firm in the story, but still.)

They did have Jane say that Morris found her selling flowers in the country, but that was, as you say, lost in the background of working in the London pastry-and-tea shop. And it's of course so hard to show, but Jane was, what, twelve when Morris spotted her?

Like you, I also was taken aback by the laudanum being introduced through the partying and lacking its context as the Victorian cure-all for middle and upper class ladies' "nerves." The historical Lizzie overdosed on something out of the medicine cabinet. That they chose to redirect that, to make Lizzie quite physically well aside from freezing in the tub, is bold and very twenty-first century.

I appreciated how Ruskin got to state his position at the last. I wish they had not had him say "children and young people" where "young people" along would have been more true and less ambiguous. But beyond that, even given that he was in fact bonkers, I appreciated the articulation that he had done nothing for the world to criticize by not desiring sex. (Granted, both his world and ours find it appalling, in our different ways, but what they gave the character to say is fair and well pointed.)

Hmmmmm. Enough for one post?
wiliqueen
Mar. 29th, 2010 04:53 pm (UTC)
Re: All Through D.R.
Red House/Klemscott Manor as Effie's idea? Okay, but...

It threw me at first, but then I can't remember off the top of my head whose idea it was the first time around, before the Kelmscott iteration actually worked out. It suits the Effie of the series very well, and makes sense in an odd sort of way -- my impression has always been that she thought these critical formative friends of her husband's were crazy, but for the most part liked them well enough anyway. And certainly never begrudged him the value of maintaining his association with them.

it would have backed up the larking sense at the end that he has barely learned anything at all (of which I'm not quite sure what to make).

He really didn't, to speak of. It actually felt more right to me to end it that way, as much as it telescoped things (just like the rest of the show). I've always given him credit for sincere grief, and for the "oh, shit, this and this and this were All My Fault" that fills various letters of the time. But then he did turn around and make so many of the same mistakes again.

as Hunt and Millais told it, Rossetti is single-handedly responsible for the brotherhood being seven instead of two, and having a name and monogram, and (according to Hunt) losing its focus... rounding up new people is Rossetti's true vocation.

Yes, exactly! (Which makes a liar of me in my early assertion that Aidan's two characters have nothing substantial in common. Idealism and impulsiveness also loom rather large there, albeit in decidedly different flavors.)

and not a hint of who he truly was to anyone who did not already know.

A slight hint, perhaps, in the "Yeah, sure, whatever, I'll look at your po-- Whoa!" *mental wheels spin furiously in revision of opinion* But not nearly enough.

And it's of course so hard to show, but Jane was, what, twelve when Morris spotted her?

Fourteen or fifteen, I think, but still. And of course they couldn't get into that without muddying the portrayal of everyone's conclusion-jumping reaction to Ruskin escorting Rose La Touche.

I wish they had not had him say "children and young people" where "young people" along would have been more true and less ambiguous.

Indeed. I've seen at least one indignant blogger accuse them of implying that he's a pedophile, which is not the point at all, as I thought was made more than adequately explicit in that conversation. That slight adjustment might have made it so for everyone.

And that the conversaion is with Gabriel, whose sexual impulses are tangled up with everything, was kind of mind-boggling, but worked surprisingly well.

Edited at 2010-03-29 05:08 pm (UTC)
studiesinlight
Apr. 3rd, 2010 08:58 pm (UTC)
Red House and Effie
>"It threw me at first, but then I can't remember off the top of my head whose idea it was the first time around, before the Kelmscott iteration actually worked out."

When far enough along in planning to be called by name, I think that the ideas for both Red House (and of course later Klemscott House and Manor) must be attributed to Morris. But to be fair, the episode did not name "Red House;" I leaped to a conclusion that those were the plans they were looking at, as it fit the time frame as close as their acceleration allowed. And of course before there ever was any such building, there was the idea of an artist's colony of some sort, a common room and shared kitchen, and private spaces otherwise.

(I love that -- real life again, not the series, natch -- Brown addressed the boys' worry that the women might feud sharing such an environment with the assertion that their sisters and wives were so "superior" to the common run of womanhood that they need have no such fear... ~g~ It's all over ridiculous backward and forward.)

Now, there ware two competing ideas of the shared space, by many accounts, of course. One not inviting Rossetti and his pals, and one not inviting Millais and his. :-) They liked each other tolerably, but not so well as to live together! Though both wanted Hunt on their side. And then there was the complication of which women could respectably share space with which other women... and were willing to do so, given some people's well-known tendencies to wander.

And of course Millais wanted everyone to get married as soon as possible in support of his plan. The series did get that right -- his bubbly cheerleading for marital bliss, beginning the day after his wedding. His letters are hilariously (or indigestibly, if you're not in the mood) full of it. Rah! Rah! Go marriage!

>"It suits the Effie of the series very well, and makes sense in an odd sort of way -- my impression has always been that she thought these critical formative friends of her husband's were crazy, but for the most part liked them well enough anyway."

She seems to have imbibed her husband's suspicion of Rossetti, but as a well-bred Victorian woman, she couldn't help but be suspicious of Rossetti, after all, and he amply deserved suspicion... but yes, you're right, it does suit her in several ways, including launching her from the icy isolation of her years as Mrs. Ruskin to the warm family and society of life as Mrs. Millais. This scene shows her embracing the group, and accepted by the group, and so again successfully condenses years.

I like (back to real life) the anecdote of her acquiring models for her husband while they were living in Scotland, racing around to all sorts of places, dragging people with the right looks to him, and then sending them home (happy) with frugally far less than he would have paid them if left to himself. Good Scotswoman. ;-)
wiliqueen
Apr. 3rd, 2010 09:47 pm (UTC)
Re: Red House and Effie
before there ever was any such building, there was the idea of an artist's colony of some sort, a common room and shared kitchen, and private spaces otherwise.

Which is what I assumed that to be, especially when we later had the "Gee, I would have sworn soemthing like that had been discussed..." when it's later brought up again as Morris' idea. And Red House/Kelmscott legitimately was -- he had no way of knowing that something similar had been proposed, and then tabled as unworkable, before he was integrated into the circle.

Brown addressed the boys' worry that the women might feud sharing such an environment with the assertion that their sisters and wives were so "superior" to the common run of womanhood that they need have no such fear...

Oh, man, I'd actually forgotten that part! I really need to reread some stuff and get back to work on the Lizzie project. I actually just picked up Jan Marsh's biography of Rossetti at Half Price Books, which should be interesting, since most of her previous books have focused on the women.

then sending them home (happy) with frugally far less than he would have paid them if left to himself. Good Scotswoman. ;-)

Indeed. Effie gets far less credit than she deserves for being terribly interesting.

Edited at 2010-04-03 09:57 pm (UTC)
studiesinlight
Mar. 29th, 2010 04:36 am (UTC)
More on All Through D.R.
The lighting in the ghost scene in front of "Beta Beatrix" really got to me. Lizzie was all in color and light, nature and beauty in absolute precision; Gabriel at her side was washed out in dark and shadow, artificial and smudged away. Dead, she was art and life.

Millais in his comfortable living room with his wife, and Hunt alone at a makeshift alter, contemplating their studies of Lizzie, was perfect.

Now, Effie should not have met Lizzie until after Lizzie's honeymoon, so that excellent scene between the two of them, merging their storylines good and proper, is, like the wedding reception, a lapse in historical accuracy that I won't hold too much against them, but I couldn't help fussing over a little. The three central women belong to three distinct social strata. And, as you've observed elsewhere, none of them were nearly as revolutionary as they pretended when it came to middle-class expectations of female virtue.

Which brings me back to their choice to have Effie deliver that packet to Ruskin face to face. Very dramatic, but her clever fleeing with her family, switching train passengers, and dispatching a lawyer would have been dramatic, too, if they could have afforded it... This Ruskin is made to imply that he thinks Effie slept with at least one of her admirers. Why? The real Ruskin liked Effie better the more he liked her admirers, and signed a statement that to the best of his knowledge, Effie was still a virgin (and of course so she was).

Oh! I loved the bits with Hunt and Fanny out back at the wedding reception. Priceless! Genuine grief, and then a misunderstanding into a romp.

There were a few more vivid sex scenes than strictly required by the narrative, I noticed. I think I will observe something about one of them under a lock later on. The things you don't learn watching US television...

>"far more harrowing,"

Yes. How much terror, how much hope, how many vain bargains with God, packed into those desperate last hours.

>"IIRC, however, we do have a primary source claiming to have heard him admit out loud that he finally agreed to marry Lizzie because he thought she'd die before he got her to the altar."

I can't remember the quotation to attribute it, but I concur that it's reported as fact everywhere. And I agree that it makes a marvelous wedding-day-panic blurt!

>"Thankfully, they did write in Gabriel's we-don't-need-no-stinkin'-research error of painting directly on the unprepared plaster."

Murals are what I'm best at, Mr. Ruskin. Oh, you know me, I'm all about the murals...
wiliqueen
Mar. 29th, 2010 05:03 pm (UTC)
Re: More on All Through D.R.
Lizzie was all in color and light, nature and beauty in absolute precision; Gabriel at her side was washed out in dark and shadow, artificial and smudged away. Dead, she was art and life.

Yes! This was exactly my reaction, but I couldn't articulate it so clearly. There were a number of moments where the physical production particularly reflected the art, but that's far and a way the most successful.

The three central women belong to three distinct social strata. And, as you've observed elsewhere, none of them were nearly as revolutionary as they pretended when it came to middle-class expectations of female virtue.

Indeed. And the fudging of that (barring the early mouthing of sentiments regarding the appropriateness of modeling as an occupation) skews things oddly in a number of places.

This Ruskin is made to imply that he thinks Effie slept with at least one of her admirers. Why? The real Ruskin liked Effie better the more he liked her admirers, and signed a statement that to the best of his knowledge, Effie was still a virgin (and of course so she was).

Good point. His character suffers less on the whole than I expected at the beginning, but a few things -- this probably first among them -- are decidedly unfair.

Oh! I loved the bits with Hunt and Fanny out back at the wedding reception. Priceless! Genuine grief, and then a misunderstanding into a romp.

I loved this, not least because I felt like it was the only time Fanny got solid characterization. Albeit somewhat overshadowed by Hunt, who's been a bit neglected by the narrative for a while.

There were a few more vivid sex scenes than strictly required by the narrative, I noticed.

"Vivid" is a...nicely tactful way of putting it. O_O
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