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Is this the man whose life we're supposed to envy?
OK OK, it might be hard to put the entirety of a man's life in one film. Traditionally therefore, biopics focus on one or two significant parts in the subject's life. Now, Byron was a "my week beats your year" fellow, which makes selecting parts that are representative even harder. Furthermore, just as Byron's poetry is inseparable from his life, the man's life itself must be seen as a whole. Lifting parts out is not only not showing the whole picture, it's showing a different picture altogether.
Now, in short my review comes down to this: supposedly, Byron was indeed the "my week beats your year" prototype, a guy who lived so intensely that he indeed did more in his 15 or so active years than most do in an entire lifetime. True, he had setbacks and was a victim of the time and social setting he lived in - but in the end, this dude is supposed to be the prototype whose life we'd all want to lead, no? Well, I did NOT, at ANY moment, want to live the life depicted in this film. So it gets 3. Not for being so badly done (which, direction-wise, it more or less was), but more importantly for missing the point entirely in a flat plot.
Some more detail. Well, to over simplify things, a Byron bio should have two distinct episodes: 1. Post-first Europe trip: England and his rise to fame + marriage / 2. His life abroad. Now, the important thing is that the SECOND part should be at least as important as the first. Not only was it a lot longer, but the most significant change in Byron took place then. Furthermore, it's where he created his best works (Don Juan, the Vision of Judgement etc. - all the stuff that makes him *really* unique in English literature).
Instead, in this film (a) Byron's life never comes across as even remotely entertaining, (b) it only gets *worse* after he leaves England. They did two good jobs: first, they started at his return of his Europe trip (though a bit more of the actual trip would have been welcome as a prologue), second, they chose an angle, and they chose his incestuous love for Augusta (who is rather perfectly cast). The problem with this last thing is that they never let it go. True, Byron remained strongly attached to Augusta for the rest of his life, but, especially as he was such a mood swing person, the fact that his letters reflect that does not mean that at other times he might not have completely enjoyed life.
Anyway, the first part of the TV film should have ended with him leaving England. There's no doubt about that. The thing is: once abroad, a life of debauchery began (with the infamous Geneva period), but in Italy Byron also discovered a new life, both for his poetry (inspired by Italian comedy), already in Venice, and for himself when he found the Contessa Teresa Guiccioli and moved to Ravenna (afterwards, at the request of Shelly, with Teresa, to Pisa). In other words, he was also *liberated*. His mind and life opened up (and not only in the decadent sense), while England's closed further as it fell into the gravitational pull of the Victorian age. True, freedom was Augusta-less, but this bitter-sweet freedom tastes sour in this film. We see a lonely, bored snob getting older.
I mean, hell, Byron never thought much about his poetry, except when he finally found his own voice in Don Juan! Apart from poetic and romantic developments, his relationship with Shelly (and the down-break) should have been more documented. Also, it is in Italy in Ravenna that he gets involved with politics and revolutionary ideas. This is important, as it shows that the decadent romantic and ultimately escapist language and person of Childe Harold is changing into the more planted-in-life realistic and lighter passion of the language and person of Don Juan. Life and work are one. True, still a bit naive, but it's what got him to Greece! And the whole thing came full circle in Pisa, where Shelley's revolutionary spirit further ignited the spark. Missolonghi wasn't the bored snob suddenly looking for some action. It was the insights in Italy (the Gambas) stirring him into action. It can be a symbol for the man looking for some ancient-style battle excitement while the rest of Europe becomes fixed in the clay of modern reason and conservatism. But it wasn't just that, there was a true inspiration behind it. Meanwhile, Byron wrote massive amounts of Don Juan. True, his end is a bit sad, but it's not like he's worn out. THAT is the essence of Byron's life: he may have had some strong emotional attachments (2: Augusta and Teresa), but EVERY time he managed to reinvent himself truly. Meaning that he wasn't 'less' at the end of his life - no, he'd made a physical and mental JOURNEY that, at the time, few people were prepared to make.
I wonder. Why is it that so often the second period in Byron's life is overlooked? Because it had less obvious conflicts, as the man was finally coming to his own? In focusing our attention on the frustrated England years fraught with scandals, we show ourselves to be not much better than the English aristocracy at the time, which Byron so despised, and which, despite the fact that he had no choice, he *willingly* fled in 1816, to find a world that was modern and liberal enough to let him find the voice that would make him the first romantic plainspoken language poet and evolve from a self-obsessed snob to a passionate man moving onward with a cause.
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