Omnibus

Dante's Inferno (22 Dec. 1967)

TV Episode  -   -  Documentary | Biography
8.7
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A movie about jealousy, and the complex and painful relationship between Rossetti and his sickly wife, Elizabeth. They are members of the upper-crust layer of society, bourgeois painters, ... See full summary »

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Title: Dante's Inferno (22 Dec 1967)

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Cast

Episode complete credited cast:
...
Judith Paris ...
Andrew Faulds ...
Iza Teller ...
Christina Rossetti
Christopher Logue ...
Swinburne
Gala Mitchell ...
Pat Ashton ...
Clive Goodwin ...
David Jones ...
Howell
Norman Dewhurst ...
Burne-Jones
Tony Gray ...
Dougie Gray ...
Derek Boshier ...
Caroline Coon ...
Janet Deuters ...
Emma Brown
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A movie about jealousy, and the complex and painful relationship between Rossetti and his sickly wife, Elizabeth. They are members of the upper-crust layer of society, bourgeois painters, poets and philosophers. Rossetti struggles with his own emotions for his wife, as she refuses his sexual advances before they marry, and, once they do marry, she is unable to bear him any children. She believes he has impregnated another woman (a model), commits suicide, and, as he chooses to bury his best poems with her coffin, he is driven insane when confronted with the idea of exhuming her coffin and retrieving the book to sell to his fans. Written by Jonathan Dakss <dakss@columbia.edu>

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22 December 1967 (UK)  »

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1.33 : 1
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Ken Russell:  [snake]  Snake crawling on Dante's face after he crashes into the bird cages. See more »

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OMNIBUS: DANTE'S INFERNO (Ken Russell, 1967; TV) ***
2 December 2011 | by (Naxxar, Malta) – See all my reviews

To begin with, this is not an adaptation of the First Book of "The Divine Comedy" by Italy's foremost poet (though the subject would no doubt have fired the director's imagination) but the life of obscure poet/painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti – played by Oliver Reed (whose abrasive personality was perfectly suited to Russell's over-the-top approach to cinema, which makes him very much an acquired taste but undeniably reveals a fiercely original talent at work). Even so, the style here is not yet the all-stops-out excess the film-maker is known for; incidentally, his celebrated programs for the BBC on the lives of various figures from the art and music world seemed to range in length from mini-features (running anywhere in the vicinity of an hour) to 90 minutes and, since this one falls in the latter category, does feel somewhat overlong for its purpose. The overall tone of the program is also rather highbrow (maybe I was just watching it at too late an hour!) due to the constant reciting of the undeniably sensitive poetry.

The end result is nevertheless impressive – being especially beautifully-shot (in monochrome) – yet, while Reed is characteristically imposing (attesting also to the depth he was capable of), the film's most haunting contributions are those of two (out of the three) females Rossetti is involved with throughout. These are Judith Paris (as the pretty muse/wife he saved from prostitution and who herself later dabbles in the arts) and Gala Mitchell (a striking-looking model who later married one of his associates, dubbed collectively as the "Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood"). Oddly enough, I had just seen both in Russell's controversial Richard Strauss 'biopic' DANCE OF THE SEVEN VEILS (1970) but neither had caught my eye to this extent, with the two films comprising Mitchell's entire body of work whereas Paris did other stuff (including more work for Russell, such as his notorious THE DEVILS {1971})! With this in mind, Mitchell's on-screen husband (Andrew Faulds) – who also left a good impression – seemed like a very familiar face but could not give it a name until I saw him listed in the end credits!

To get back to the film, apart from Paris' own stalling, her relationship with Reed is jeopardized by the influence his snobbish sister exerts over the protagonist. Later on, there is also the fact that Paris' own paintings (taught by Rossetti) are preferred by a potential promoter! Other setbacks to their happiness include Paris' tubercular condition and, as mentioned, Reed's dallying with other women (his spouse even accuses him of having fathered a child with Mitchell). When Paris dies, Reed buried his published poems with her but, told by the promoter they would fetch a good price, he unearths her casket after 7 years to retrieve them (Russell's hand is most evident during this scene, a teaser for which actually opens the film, but also a fantasy jousting sequence representing the bohemian camaraderie – set to a 'modern' score that includes Irving Berlin's "There's No Business Like Show Business"! – and Rossetti's derangement, brought on by a guilty conscience, following the exhumation). In fact, he even attempts suicide by laudanum – a substance Paris had abused of herself in an effort to cure her ailment – but is restored to health by yet another earthier model (looking a bit like "Carry On" stalwart Barbara Windsor!) who had regularly sat for him…despite being, more often than not, mistreated at the volatile artist's hands.

P.S. I was surprised that an elderly acquaintance of mine – who owns a garage stacked with 16mm and 35mm editions of hundreds of titles – included a copy of this one in his collection during one of my visits to his quaint home theater 'arrangement'...although he was far from enthusiastic when I asked him about it!


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