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Jonny Lee Miller
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Jonny Lee Miller,
Let me start by stating that I've read most of Byron's letters, a number of biographies as well as his poetry. The screenwriter, whose work on adapting Persuasion I liked very much, did well by the conflicted, contradictory character of the "bad, mad and dangerous to know" Byron. The script drew on the title characters own works, letting him speak what he wrote - and he was a marvelous letter writer, much better than he was a poet. This film was much more faithful to the facts than the average biopic - frighteningly so, given what it shows about Byron's scandalous character and life.
Jonny Lee Miller, although obviously older than the character he portrays, gives us the whole chameleon, the demure new star in the writing establishment, the would be politician, the society "bad boy". Witness the poet with his hair up in curlers for a new side to the Byron everyone thinks they know. My ideal actor for the part would have been the young Robert Vaughn, but Miller gives us the genuine pain in the ass quality the part needs.
What particularly interested me in this version was what got left out. Probably the most famous part of the Byron story is the summer he spent with Shelley and his menage, which resulted in the publication of "Frankenstein." It has been amply treated elsewhere, in the excellent "Bride of Frankenstein," Ken Russell's god-awful "Gothic", and the even worse "Haunted Summer". The screenwriters chose to leave it out, concentrating instead on the debacle of Byron's marriage and his final redeeming attempt to assist the cause of Greek liberation from the Turks.
In between these two was the other major part of Byron's life, the many years he spent in Italy. While the scandalous parts were shown, it might have been interesting to show something of his attempts to help liberate Italy from the Austrians, which led him ultimately to his death in Greece.
Overall, though, I found this movie an absorbing account of a life ill-spent, full of fine acting in all the minor parts. I'm not sure, however, exactly how it would work to someone without a basic knowledge of the Byron saga, in all its deplorable, lunatic, and muddled variety. The life of Byron simply doesn't lend itself to smooth storytelling with a lot of sexy bits.
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