Dir: Julien Temple. UK. 2000. 124mins.
Prod co: Mariner Films. Co-prods: BBC, Arts Council of England, Moonstone Entertainment. Int'l sales: Moonstone Entertainment, tel: (1) 310 247 6060. Exec prods: Mike Phillips, Tracey Scoffield, David M Thompson. Prod: Nick O'Hagen. Scr: Frank Cottrell Boyce. DoP: John Lynch. Prod des: Laurence Dorman. Ed: Nivien Howie. Music: Dario Mariancelli. Main cast: Linus Roache, John Hannah, Samantha Morton, Emily Woof, Emma Fielding.
Evidently attracted to creative anarchists, from the Sex Pistols to Jean Vigo, Julien Temple presents Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth as spirited rock 'n' roll poets, whose fertile but tempestuous friendship yielded some of the greatest glories of Romantic literature. The result is a treat for the eyes and ears, with glorious imagery and acres of great verse (recited by both poets in voice-over). However, one is left wondering about the accuracy of this take. The film also feels unstructured and even old-fashioned; it is often reminiscent of Ken Russell's early biopics. With this cast, Pandaemonium's best chances would seem to be on the small screen.
The film begins in 1816, at a reception to announce the new Poet Laureate, an honour the smug middle-aged Wordsworth (Hannah) is confident will be his. The arrival of Coleridge (Roache), a wreck addled by years of opium abuse, launches a (somewhat confusing) flashback to 1795, when the young poets, fired by events in France, launch an underground revolutionary movement that is swiftly crushed by the authorities.
Coleridge retires to cultivate his garden with his wife (Morton) and newborn son (whom he calls 'Citizen Baby'), but the hoped-for utopia becomes mired in rain, frost and mud. When Wordsworth and his sister, Dorothy (Woof), appear, it ushers in a brief period of unprecedented creativity for both men, until Wordsworth is consumed by jealousy of Coleridge's superior genius.
Good-looking on a modest budget, the film takes its cue from Coleridge's dream-like verse, working as a series of brilliant moments: Coleridge hurling seditious pamphlets from a hot-air balloon or getting high on various mind-altering substances. But there is no clear sense of the changing balance of power between the central quartet. The characters, particularly Wordsworth - through the fault of the screenplay rather than the performances - come across as sketchy and not always coherent.