Omnibus

Dante's Inferno (22 Dec. 1967)

TV Episode  -   -  Documentary | Biography
8.7
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Ratings: 8.7/10 from 255 users  
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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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(commentary and dialogue), (scenario), 1 more credit »
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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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Storyline

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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Compelling and, typical of Russell, ahead of its time
5 August 2005 | by (London, England) – See all my reviews

Oliver Reed works hard as the lead in this factually accurate if necessarily abridged account of the 'Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood'. It opens with a frightening disinterment (which we discover later is that of his muse/sitter and later wife Lizzie Siddal, to retrieve the notebook of love poems Rossetti (Reed) had buried with her seven years earlier). The main narrative starts in 1848 and introduces the Rossetti circle of somewhat dissolute men and the women they shared. Siddall, a cockney shop girl, is however virtuous, wronged, and disapproved-of by Rossetti's snobbish sister, but admired by Rossetti's romantic followers.

Most of the narrative is about Rossetti's obsession with Siddal and his weakness in temptation. His possessiveness regains strength when rivals vie for Siddal's hand (for instance, art patron John Ruskin, played here by Clive Goodwin) but he is careless about Siddal herself in life and ultimately death, his betrayals haunting him almost to the point of imitating her suicide-by-laudanum himself.

There are flashes of Russell originality. The ones I remember most are the brief slow-mo sections to accompany Rossetti's contemplative romantic poetry in voice-over, and a shot of a woman standing in a boat on a lake (note the Arthurian symbolism) which cuts to the reflected image in the rippled surface of the lake, the reflection turned upside-down in the edit to appear the same way up. There is perhaps too much brash and anachronistic incidental music,(e.g. There's No Business Like Showbusiness played on what sounds like a harmonium, on top of Rossetti and co horsing around in a field). There are also moments of surreal and dreamlike chaos similar to other Russell work and here partly brought on by the presence of laudanum (compare to Julien Temple's Pandaemonium). And there is a moment of typically Russell daring: a nipple, which I suspect was pretty rare on TV in 1967.

The main interest for me is however the cast. Many are from the late 50s/early 60s London art-college/drama-school scene which Ken and Shirley Russell were part of. Derek Boshier, pop painter; Clive Goodwin, widower of Pauline Boty, pop painter; Christopher Logue, friend of Goodwin and Boty; Tony and Dougie Grey, eccentric musicians The Alberts who along with the (related) Temperance Seven were central to the early London social realist/pop-art vibe; Gala Mitchell, Boshier's glamorous girlfriend of the time; and Caroline Coon, a younger face on the London scene. There are doubtless more connections if one looks harder.

Shirley Russell's costume design is unmistakable. The full-fig Victorian look dates right back to one of Ken's first amateur films, Amelia And The Angel, similarly cast with friends from the same scene, and was inspired by London's Portobello Road street market, source of the nostalgic craze for empire and Victoriana which started in the 1950s as Britain sought a position in the postwar world, and culminated in Peter Blake's sleeve for The Beatles' Sgt Pepper.


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