PANDAEMONIUM 2001

 

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BBC Films presents a Mariner Films production in association with the Film Council and Moonstone Entertainment.
Distributed by Optimum Releasing

 

PANDAEMONIUM
Written by Frank Cottrell Boyce
Directed by Julien Temple
Rated M
Valhalla Glebe

When filmmakers land a hero who happens to be a poet and who's burdened with an opium habitand who lived in the rococo 18th century, it might be too much to expect them to stay their hand.

Pity, because buried beneath the lavishly embroidered flashbacks and hallucination scenes in the BBC costume drama Pandaemonium is a decent, though historically dubious, story about the relationship between the 18th-century British poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth.

Linus Roache plays the idealistic, energetic Coleridge. The film starts later in Coleridge's life, when the drug-addled poet is attending a party given by his saturnine poet friend William Wordsworth (John Hannah), the daffodil guy. The director, Julien Temple, then flashes back to Coleridge and Wordsworth meeting, and their developing friendship. Coleridge is distributing a covert political magazine called The Watchman and brings Wordsworth into the group.

Coleridge is married to a long-suffering Sara (Samantha Morton) while Wordsworth's closest, perhaps incestuous, relationship is with his clever sister, Dorothy (Emily Woof). When Coleridge and Wordsworth decide to write a book of poems together, they visit the seaside for inspiration. Coleridge meets an old fisherman whom we are to understand is the Common Man, because he's gnarled, immensely wise and looks off into the middle distance as he speaks in rough tones. That night, Coleridge takes laudanum (the literary laxative) and disgorges The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Wordsworth, who says no to hard drugs, is blocked and fails to write his poem about the economic importance of England's fisheries. Bit by bit, Wordsworth is consumed by his jealousy of Coleridge.

The script by Frank Cottrell Boyce, who wrote Hilary and Jackie and 24 Hour Party People, is dislocated and crowded with implausibilities. It provides no markers as to how fast or slow time is passing. (This can be justified as form following drug-befuddled content, but it doesn't make for satisfying viewing.) The climax is so overwrought it looks like comedy, and the licence taken with history would send literary academics running to their computers to post dismayed opinion pieces on obscure websites.

However, the characters of the poets and of Dorothy are charming, and their relationships, which are never satisfactorily explored, intriguing. There are some lovely scenes when the friends are experimenting with drugs, and hearing the poems of Coleridge recited is a pleasure.

Unfortunately, Temple's direction is so noisy it's hard to hear the poetry. I appreciate Temple (The Filth and the Fury) is trying to match Coleridge's blustering poetry, but even before I entered the cinema, I was wondering what the extra "a" in "pandemonium" portended. Maybe it's a literary reference I've missed.

One might next ask, why did Temple bother with the futuristic sequences of Coleridge slithering through mud in front of modern factories? Why the shots of birds flapping through oil slicks? Why the aeroplanes racing through an 18th-century sky? Does it mean Coleridge was Nostradamus, or just a man ahead of his time?

The poetic images become wearying after about 20 minutes.

Roache is easy to love as Coleridge, and Hannah does his set-jawed best, but he has some smelly lines to deliver as Wordsworth. I loved Woof as the passionate Dorothy, but felt Samantha Morton was wasted as Coleridge's drab, quiet wife, who had plenty to rail about, but didn't. Heck, they fictionalised the rest.

Pandaemonium is at its best when it's small and straight, striding across the countryside and developing relationships between characters, like a Sunday night BBC television drama. As for the rest, it's all sound and fury

Rotten Tomatoes

TOMATOMETER  CRITICS  58% | AUDIENCE  73%
Directed By: Julian Temple, Julien Temple
Written By: Frank Cottrell Boyce
In Theaters: Jun 29, 2001  Wide
On Disc/Streaming: Feb 12, 2002
Runtime: 124 minutes


CRITICS REVIEWS

 

FILM IN REVIEW; 'Pandaemonium'

By LAWRENCE VAN GELDER

Published: July 13, 2001

Directed by Julien Temple

PG-13, 125 minutes

Literate and handsome, ''Pandaemonium'' examines the relationship between the English romantic poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) and William Wordsworth (1770-1850) as a drama of friendship, rivalry, ambition, betrayal and political intrigue in an era of recognizable parallels to recent decades.

So, working from a screenplay by Frank Cottrell Boyce (''Hilary and Jackie''), the director, Julien Temple (''Absolute Beginners''), infuses his film with elements of political rebelliousness colored by the French Revolution, government surveillance and repression, utopianism, scientific innovation, respect for nature, drug use and popular stardom of the sort that prompts the press to clamor and young women to swoon.

In graceful underscoring as he makes telling visual and narrative use of the beauteous landscape of lakes and shores and hills and fields and villages that nourished the imagination of these poets, Mr. Temple from time to time slashes the pale blue sky over his England with the diagonal white contrail of a jet aircraft.

Clearly the filmmakers' sympathies lie with Coleridge, whose fevered mind, stoked with the tincture of opium called laudanum, gave the world ''The Rime of the Ancient Mariner'' and ''Kubla Khan.'' To Wordsworth they ascribe not only base motives but also an often earthbound literary sensibility elevated by Dorothy, his perceptively critical proto-feminist sister, whose passion for a receptive Coleridge is inhibited by his marriage, his fatherhood and occasional untimely intrusions.

Films like ''Pandaemonium,'' in which a visual medium grapples with literary art, often founder in their depiction of creation, but Mr. Temple and Mr. Boyce bring subtle ridicule to Wordsworth's peripatetic dictation to Dorothy, and they ably transmit the hellish torture and triumph of Coleridge's nightmare journeys into creativity.

The two poets in the film, which opens today at the Village East (Second Avenue at 12th Street, East Village), are admirably portrayed. Linus Roache (''The Wings of the Dove'') plays the anguished, hot-blooded Coleridge and John Hannah (''Four Weddings and a Funeral'') is the comparably repressed Wordsworth. The fine cast includes Emily Woof as Dorothy Wordsworth, Samantha Morton as Coleridge's patient wife, Sara; Emma Fielding as Wordsworth's chilly spouse, Mary; Andy Serkis as John Thelwell, tortured in the Tower of London as Coleridge's partner in political activism; and Samuel West as Robert Southey, Coleridge's compassionate friend and the author of ''The Three Bears.''

As they have for centuries, writers like these make rewarding company.

''Pandaemonium'' is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). It includes drug use.
LAWRENCE VAN GELDER

+++


AUDIENCE REVIEWS


***** Rory Fyfe S
September 27, 2016
I thought it was a good movie. With good performances.

Lee M
March 1, 2012
Well-intentioned and at the same time sadly indulgent as history is modified to suit the MTV generation.

**** Super Reviewer
The S
January 11, 2011
A fanciful and atmospheric fantasy based loosely on the lives of Coleridge and Wordsworth - there's more than a hint of Schafer's Amadeus in this tale of tortured artists and jealousy. Great cast, beautifully shot and poetry of a kind both new and old as the script dovetails effortlessly with some of England's greatest romantic verse.

***½ Stefan G
January 28, 2010
I especially enjoyed Lord Byron mocking Wordsworth

** michael c
March 24, 2009
What a train wreck. One star for the poetry, and one star for the decent performances by the two female leads (Emily Woof and Samantha Morton).

*****Melvin P
October 7, 2008
as far as i know the only wordsworth and coleridge movie, which is a crime. the movie is wonderfully acted and absurdly anachronistic. live it. love it. come for the laudanum, stay for the coleridge dance remix.


**** Michael B
February 21, 2008
Two Words "Kubla Khan". Temple enlivens one of the most important poems of western culture. Full of grace and romantic charm, this tribute to Coleridge does him much justice. Not historically accurate but delightful and enchanting non the less.

Sonya W
January 31, 2008
My favorite poet, I didn't know this was around.

**** Evelyn N
January 12, 2008
Contrary to what many think this is not a film about two poets: it is an impressionistic biography of the poem "Kubla Khan", and of a whole new development in poetry and artistic expression. The impact of "Kubla Khan" still resonates today. As someone who has studied the history of English literature I was thrilled with this film. Impressionistic - as it should be - and visually breathtaking. Kudos to Julian Temple.

**** Samantha S
January 2, 2008
Another film that's not terribly accurate but does represent the fervor of the 18th century poets, the rock stars of their time. And I love Linus Roache.

*** ½ Eliot N
December 8, 2007
Not terribly accurate, but thoroughly entertaining.

**P.J. E
November 15, 2007
It's like *Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,* only Dr. Gonzo works for the MAN and, in his pathetic jealous rage, totally screws over Hunter S. Thompson. Also, there's poetry. And sometimes a contrail.

Or, maybe it's like *2001: A Space Odyssey,* only HAL thinks it's Wordsworth. Or is it the other way around?

Honestly, a Romanticist colleague made me watch this. I found it humorous, tho probably not in the way Temple intended.

**** ½ Private U
October 10, 2007
Not much for historical accuracy, but really lovely visually. Plus, Linus Roache is just awesome. He walked through radioactive mud for this movie.

**** ½ Jennifer M
October 9, 2007
Something unexpected...kind of felt like I was watching Plunkett and McClean

**** ½ Private U
September 27, 2007
intriguing portrait of the complicated relationship between samuel taylor "kubla kahn" coleridge and william "daffodils" wordsworth. some interesting visual interpretations of the poetry.

***** Joakim J
September 9, 2007
This must be one of the best movies I have ever seen! It is quite frankly a visual masterwork. There are many really good movies out there, but this one of those that left me with an almost religious feeling. It is the story of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's (excellently played by Linus Roache) longtime friendship and collaboration with William Wordsworth (equally well played by John Hannah), and the narrative is focused through Coleridge's opium addicted (and wasted) mind and most of it actually told through a fantastic flashback.
The opium addiction opens visual options of prophecy and vision (related to the poetry of the Romantics, of course) for director Julien Temple and he makes the most of it. From the opening sequence ? showing yellow drops of laudanum falling into a glass with clear water (first seen from the side and then from below), combined with a whooshing sound as the yellow liquid hits the clear water and Roache's voice reading lines of Coleridge's poetry ? through knocked over wine glasses falling in slow motion while Coleridge tries to speak with his friend of his being set loose from time and to the dark heart of the story and the mystery of the poetic fragment "Kubla Khan", I remain in total awe of this movie. Add good performances all over to this; especially worth mentioning are Samantha Morton as Sara Coleridge and Emily Woof as Dorothy Wordsworth. If you are interested in the Romantic poets, you should see this. If you like movies who makes the most of the medium YOU HAVE TO SEE THIS!

***** Private U
July 23, 2007
Idealism foiled by drug addiction. Good show.

***** Kim A
July 5, 2007
Absolutely wonderful. I am in love w/ Linus Roache.

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