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This is the only film depiction of Byron I've seen that attempts to portray him as the clever, funny man that he was rather than some cartoon goth with a big floaty cloak, eyeliner and an evil, reverberating laugh. Other films tend to be simple, self-indulgent perpetuations of Byron's partially self-made myth and this film is the only one I have seen so far that shows something of what was beneath: Regency society seen through Lord Byron's eyes as he rips the piss. Jonny Lee Miller carries off the parallel aspects of Byron's personality with aplomb, making him smug and petulant while unavoidably charismatic and likable. Of course it's still all conjecture, as is emphasised at the start of the film, but as far as Byron films go, there's nothing out there to touch this.
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.
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
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.
I find myself disagreeing with a previous reviewer. Byron was indeed a
beast, apparently, but because Miller plays him as a damned beast, I
found myself sympathetic toward the character.
I thought the casting was good, and especially liked "Lady Caroline"'s insanity -- what a hairdo! Lovely costuming. "Shelley" was excellent, too. He seemed soulful, half-crazed, and damned as well. Weren't all the Romantics...?
And Vanessa Redgrave, of course, was marvelous. One could actually imagine how, if there "had been fewer years between (them)," it might have been a very short dinner, indeed.
Inner-City High School English Teacher Central Valley, California
This BBC production on George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron, isn't
about the works of the renowned English poet and satirist, known widely
as Lord Byron. Rather, its focus is on the life of the man. As such, it
seems to do a very good job of showing a conflicted and tormented life
that Byron lived. This is the story of a tortured soul who wrote about
his own conflicts and failure to find fulfillment in pleasure. And it
is about a witty, talented thinker and writer who could give us such
classical satire as "Don Juan."
I think a passage from the Encyclopedia Britannica describes well the varying views on Byron's place in letters. "Renowned as the 'gloomy egoist' of his autobiographical poem, "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage" (1812-18), in the 19th century, he is now more generally esteemed for the satiric realism of "Don Juan" (1819-24)."
It was long ago that I read "Don Juan" and perhaps some small parts of other works or letters. So, I appreciated the review by Ginger Johnson (3 December 2005) who gave some information and points about the film as it depicted Byron's life.
With the reviews I've read as of the time of my writing, I am surprised that no one has commented on Byron's background and upbringing. His is a classic tale (if, indeed, one can use the term in this context) of a broken home in childhood, with an abusive, negligent and then absent father. As a boy, he and his mother were a low-income family, and then at the age of 10 he had great wealth thrust upon him by inheritance. He grew up without discipline or responsibilities. He was extremely self- centered and selfish what we might call "spoiled" today.
Why is this worth pondering? Because, had he grown up in a healthy home with loving parents and some direction, there's a good chance that Bryon's life would not have been so tragic and short. And, we might have had the pleasure of more literary treasures today.
The film covers mostly his last few years with his adultery, heavy drinking, and constant pursuits of pleasure amidst his travels. I agree that the acting was very good by all. The direction and technical aspects were all quite good. And, while it is a good depiction of the life of Lord Byron, I can't say that I enjoyed the film as entertainment. Nor could I enjoy watching it time and again, as one reviewer says he does. As reviewer Ginger Johnson noted, because Byron's life was "ill-spent," the film isn't a joy to watch. I can watch films about tragedies, injustices and other subjects that may be edifying or educational in some sense, but that often are not enjoyable entertainment.
The life of Lord Byron was a tragedy. He died at 36, a tormented, conflicted soul, trying to help a cause he thought worthy. I think this film rightly does not celebrate Byron or his life. Rather, it laments the great loss for what might yet have been. Therein is the tragedy.
I am appalled by some of the reviews on this movie. The people who take
the time to criticize the film because they find Byron's personality
inherently distasteful are no better than the stuck-up, vapid, and
inherently depressed figures that also made up the aristocratic regency
of England. Hypersensitive people like Lady Caroline or Byron merely
reflect the madness and desperation festering within all of us, as well
as the absolute solipsism. For one reviewer to find it important to
tell us the movie was lusterless because Byron was a chaotic and
dissolute fiend is about as productive as setting a leaf on fire and
hoping the forest will catch. For your information, Byron was and is a
hero to those who would dream. Don't take the opportunity to offer your
privileged and sheltered scornful opinion on a legacy and film that
have no time for such worthless peons of petulancy such as yourself.
Yes he did things in his life that are considered horrible, but now he,
and those he hurt, are no more than flakes of dust and dirt blowing
around this world. Take time to focus on your menial existence rather
than pompously proselytizing about others.
Now that I am done putting down the insufferable philistines who found it fit to comment, I'll offer my own opinion on this movie. I adore this movie, and I make a habit of watching it at least once a month if I can. Sure it's choice of making an apex of Byron's life in England is blatantly wrong, and I thank the person who wrote that wonderful review mentioning how that choice is only a mark of the continuously conservative and scandal-obsessed society we live in today, but the aesthetics of the film remain intact. In fact, this biopic is perhaps the best I have seen in regards to its respect for the viewer's basic intelligence, wit, and sense of aesthetic. We are given the life of a man hounded by his own existence bar none. My favorite scenes were the ones between Byron and Augusta, though I would have liked to have seen Shelley get a larger role and have Keats ridiculed by Byron as well (that middle-class masturbator, to paraphrase Byron).
Please, if your mind is as sufficiently petty as benbrae76 (who wrote that god-awful review), don't bother commenting. Or even better, take a cue from Fanny Imlay (Mary Shelley's half-sister) and kill yourself.
I did not know much about Byron before seeing this BBC production with
Jonny Lee Miller as Byron. I watched it with a university professor who
teaches Byron and who is quite difficult to please when it comes to
such productions. We were both nailed right to the end and didn't find
anything in the film either superfluous, clumsy or inaccurate. For such
a short adaptation, it covered the most essential side of Byron's
character without judging the man. The casting was perfect and Jonny
Lee Miller's performance was marvellous. His beautiful face had the
innocence and yet his diction carried the weight of Byron's all time
cynicism and detachment to all things " innocent". I highly recommend
everyone to see this film, because, I for one have since plunged myself
into reading Byron and Shelly thanks to the compelling way in which
Jonny Lee Miller portrayed Byron. This was infinitely more enjoyable
and ultimately more useful for a non literary person such as myself
than several documentaries I had seen of Byron previously. I only wish
the film had been longer with some mention of Byron's extraordinary
involvement with Armenia and Armenian language as well.
After all, the adequate way of judging such a film is by how much it influences one in instructing oneself further on the subject or how one's own preconceived views are put into question. That is precisely what this film did to me.
I've always been enthusiastic about period dramas, an art form in which
the BBC has excelled in the past. This presentation of "Byron" was
unbelievable. Unbelievably bad! The script was dreadful, the acting
uninspired, and all the characters woefully insipid. Apparently Byron
was "mad bad and dangerous to know", and set the ladies hearts
all-a-flutter. Not in this production. Here he appeared as a tawdry
jumped-up little squirt instead of a passionate hero of womenfolk and
the catalyst for the Greek struggle for independence. Being born with a
club-foot Byron walked with a limp. This portrayal of the man was just
limp all over.
Byron was in reality an arrogant, cruel, egocentric, sexual (actually bisexual) predator, and although handsome and obviously attractive to women, in my opinion a generally loathsome creature who thought nothing of the tears of others he abandoned, both the women who loved him and whom he mostly abused, and his children.
He has been dubbed by some as the ultimate romantic. I find nothing remotely romantic about him. He led a debauched, drunken, chaotic life in the mode of many modern-day pop and film "stars", who have equally misguided beliefs of their own importance, of being do-gooders and/or of being some sort of fighter for the underdog. I haven't much time for those similarly irresponsible idiots either. Byron didn't even see any heroic action in Greece, but died a distinctly nasty unheroic death there, caused mainly by incompetent doctors, and I for one think he deserved it. However somehow he became a catalyst for future action for Greek independence. Lord knows why or how! Thankfully Byron's early death spared us of more of his dreary, hypocritical, and over-revered poetry, and probably saved more women of ignoble treatment at his hands.
I watched the whole two and a half-hours waiting for the production of "Byron" to spark into life. Not a splutter, not even a glimmer. It was utter tedium, if not downright boredom, from start to finish.
In my opinion Byron's works should be flung on the back burner, and this dramatisation of his life should be accorded the same treatment. However I do realise I'll probably be in the minority with my opinions. C'est la vie! I think the BBC lost its nous with this one. Although I detest the man and his works, with a little more effort and research, the production team could have brought him to life, but they didn't even come close to showing the deplorable excuse for a man that was the real Byron.
a disappointingly lack lustre depiction of the philanderingly immortal poet which was better done by richard chamberlain in the aforementioned robert bolt writen and directed effort. johnny lee miller has his moments as the lead but is let down by a script which never really catches fire and a terrible soundtrack. forget.
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