Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Libertine(Johnny Depp, John Malkovich, Samantha Morton, Rosamund Pike)

director: Laurence Dunmore
Starring: Johnny Depp, John Malkovich, Rosamund Pike, Samantha Morton

“You will not like me. The gentlemen will be envious and the ladies will be repelled.”

These words are from the opening speech of the The Libertine. Seductively delivered directly into the camera by Johnny Depp, with these words you are his. This film is homuncularly craptacular.


The Libertine is a period piece written by Stephen Jeffereys who also wrote a play with the same title. The story is about a 17th century English nobleman and poet named John Wilmot aka The Earl of Rochester(Johnny Depp). A close friend of King Charles II, The Earl of Rochester was known not only for his satirical verse, but also for his pornographic writings, outrageous acts of debauchery, hedonism, and general contempt for courtly manners. He was married to Elizabeth Mallet(Rosamund Pike), a beautiful and intelligent heiress, with whom he spent a domestic life on a pastoral estate in the English countryside. Rochester also had several mistresses at Court, including the famous English actress Elizabeth Barry(Samantha Morton.) In his spare time he fucked a ton of whores, drank copious amounts of alcohol, wrote raunchy and satirical poems, and went to see lots of plays. At the age of 33, he died of syphilis.

Despite his roguish ways, The Earl of Rochester was admired by many both in life and in death as a poetic genius.

Why this movie is flipping awesome:

The acting is quite the wibbly wobbly. i.e. Totally Amazing! I love Johnny Depp, and there are many movies of his I adore, but this has got to be Johnny Depp’s greatest performance to date. The emotional depths and levels of visceral intensity Johnny Depp reaches in this role are the deepest I have ever seen. At the same time he looses none of the technical craft that sets him apart as a virtuoso among actors. Why Depp was not at the very least nominated for an Oscar baffles me. His performance easily rivals that of Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s in Capote(the Oscar winner for best actor in 2006.)

In Rochester, Johnny Depp portrays a very sensitive and thoughtful man who has been perverted by an unnatural, compulsive lust for debauchery and hedonism. Depp explores the psychology of a self-destructive personality with flair, passion, sensitivity and humor. As we watch The Earl of Rochester’s downward spiral, one wonder’s what drives this man to do what he does. We see his physical appearance reflect his spiritual state until, by the end of the film, Rochester is a walking, syphilitic corpse. Throughout this gradual transformation we come to see the Libertine as a man who is ultimately trapped by the role he has chosen to play in life. The cost being his own humanity.

In addition to the acting genius of Johnny Depp, there are several other actors that give formidable performances in their own rites:

Samantha Morton displays a talent that is crazy awesome as she plays Rochester’s willful and talented mistress Elizabeth Barry. Rochester takes Barry’s raw talent and, through his tutelage, transforms her into the greatest actress of the London Stage. She and Johnny have several scenes that are both passionate and expertly acted. There is one scene that actually goes into a little of the craft of acting itself. It’s as if one is witnessing a master acting class given by Johnny Depp himself. The Earl and Barry are cut from the same mold. Surrounded by a world of filth, both seek too feel passion for life in the theatre. Samantha Morton's talent as an actor is quite apparent. In one particular scene, her playing an actress who gives a bad performance on stage for the camera is a technical feat in itself. Morton also shows she can cut a good Shakespeare when she gives an awesome performance of Ophelia from Hamlet during a play.

John Malkovichis first rate as King Charles II. His scenes with Johnny are very humorous in their depiction of a man who is alternately concerned and irritated by his friend’s rebellious antics. The chemistry between the two is very entertaining and depicts an underlying spirit camaraderie shared between the two actors offscreen.

Another actress that is crazy awesome is Rosamund Pike who also played Jane Bennet in Pride & Prejudice(2005). She plays Elizabeth Mallet, Rochester’s beautiful, intelligent, and dutiful wife. Where Barry is a fiery London actress one step up from a street wench, Mallet is a beautiful and courtly lady who is simultaneously Rochester's saviour and ball and chain. Rosamund Pike acts as a powerful foil for Johnny Depp in one of the most emotional and intense scenes of the film. She shows rock solid strength and resolve as a wife determined to prevent the love of her life from sinking further into self-destructive oblivion. A real awesome woman and fine actor that she is! I hope to see more of her in future roles.

Another gem of the production is the actor who plays the role of Rochester’s valet, Alcock. Richard Coyle takes a rather small, minor role and makes it quite a human character. The interactions between Johnny Depp and Richard Coyle are both subtly hilarious and full of natural chemistry. First rate acting that there too.

DVD features:

Lots of cool behind the scenes footage and making of documentaries.

Several extra scenes and blooper reels are included as well.

The commentary by director Laurence Dunmore is very informative. Not only does he provide historical insight into the character of Rochester, but he also gives one a look into the whole process of filmmaking and working with a cast of incredible actors.


While showcasing a ton of fine acting all round, viewer be warned, The Libertine is not a movie for everyone. The subject matter deals with a main character who is basically a syphilitic sex addict trapped in a world of apathy largely caused by his own doing. The scenes are at times very graphic and brutal in their depiction of hedonism, falling just short of actual pornography. However, if one has a sense of humor about it all and can see past the surface profanity, The Libertine is really the story of a man with a very sensitive and gifted intellect tragically flawed in his pursuit of Love and Admiration. Some of the finest acting by Johnny Depp occurs in this movie. I believe this is the most emotionally raw and exposed performance by such an amazing actor and for that reason alone I would recommend it as a must see.

Other movies I would recommend if you liked this one are:

Dangerous Liaisons, 2046, Bad Lieutenant, and Edward Scissorhands, The Man Who Cried, Last Tango In Paris

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