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This 60-minute bio-pic is both engaging and informative, and quite appealing.
As someone who has read Irving Stone's consummate biography of Van Gogh, "Lust for Life", I wasn't sure that I really needed what I perceived as the possible redundancy of this film. I finally watched it (on YouTube) because of Benedict Cumberbatch, arguably Britain's best young film actor.
I was very very pleasantly surprised. This isn't your normal bio-pic, where scenes are invented and dialogue is fabricated and everything is only a vague approximation of history at best, and a Hollywoodized confection or melodrama at worst. Instead, the entire script of this bio-doc is taken verbatim from the letters of Vincent Van Gogh and his brother Theo, and also from those of their contemporaries. The words taken from the letters are ingeniously and engagingly acted out by each actor in their respective locales.
While this might sound possibly dry, it is anything but. For one, we've got Benedict Cumberbatch. I've grown used to brilliant performances by Benedict, and this is yet another one. Vincent comes brilliantly and evocatively alive here. And I must add, to Cumberbatch's enormous credit, he never overplays Vincent -- a figure of such wild passions and a life of such melodrama that it would have been easy to slip into that.
For another, the program is bookended by a prologue and epilogue pleasantly and reverently explaining the material and sources, and the drama includes appropriate narration by this same presenter when the story radically shifts time and place.
Lastly, beyond the excellent performances and vivid storyline, we have the drawings, sketches, studies, and incredible paintings of Vincent himself, interpolated easily into the narrative, in exquisite high-definition shots. I've never seen Van Gogh's art presented so vividly on film -- it's a real treat.
All in all, I learned a lot, even though I thought I already knew most of Van Gogh's story. And the acting, narration, and artwork were splendid. Highly recommended.
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