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Desperate Romantics Episode 4

Aug 5, 2009 Author: admin | Filed under: Episodes
Tuesday 11 August
9.00-10.00pm BBC TWO
Annie (Jennie Jacques) seduces Fred while Hunt is far away

Annie (Jennie Jacques) seduces Fred while Hunt is far away

While Hunt is far away in the Holy Land, Fred endeavours to fulfil his promise to look after Annie and prevent her from getting up to mischief, as the BBC Two drama following the lives and loves of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood continues. Annie has an agenda of her own, however, and it’s not long before Fred has been seduced by her charms. Hunt soon returns from the Holy Land – none the wiser about Annie and Fred’s liaison. Ironically, Annie’s improved self-control under Fred’s care prompts Hunt to ask for her hand in marriage.

Rossetti, meanwhile, receives an encouraging visit from Ruskin who, with Millais no longer on his books, is looking for a new protégé. Rossetti is so excited by the prospect of Ruskin’s patronage that he finally proposes to Lizzie. However, in spite of newly-wed Millais’s smug insistence that married life is the key to true happiness, both Hunt and Rossetti begin to waver at the prospect of what lies ahead.

Fred looks on as his friends start to panic, while frantically concealing from Hunt his secret affair with Annie.

Desperate Romantics is simulcast on the BBC HD channel – the BBC’s High Definition channel, available through Freesat, Sky and Virgin Media.

William Holman Hunt is played by Rafe Spall; Fred Walters by Sam Crane; Annie Miller by Jennie Jacques; Dante Gabriel Rossetti by Aidan Turner; John Ruskin by Tom Hollander; John Millais by Samuel Barnett; and Lizzie Siddal by Amy Manson.

Desperate Romantics Episode 3

Jul 30, 2009 Author: admin | Filed under: Episodes
Tuesday 4 August

9.00-10.00pm BBC TWO
Millais (Samuel Barnett) realises he's in love with Effie Ruskin (Zoë Tapper), his patron's wife

Millais (Samuel Barnett) realises he’s in
love with Effie Ruskin (Zoë Tapper), his patron’s wife

John Millais, the youngest and most talented member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, delights in having landed the influential John Ruskin as his new patron, as this lively new drama for BBC Two continues.

Millais’s friends and fellow artists, Hunt and Rossetti, however, watch on with bitter envy as his star begins to rise.

It’s not long, though, before Millais realises that Ruskin’s patronage comes at a price. Ruskin insists that Millais paint his beautiful young wife, Effie. Trapped in a loveless marriage, Effie reveals to Millais that Ruskin cannot, or will not, consummate their marriage. Horrified, Millais realises what is expected of him – in return for Ruskin’s patronage, he is to sleep with Ruskin’s wife.

Rossetti immediately seizes the benefits of his friend’s predicament. Millais, however, is crestfallen at the idea of sleeping with another man’s wife, and the potential scandal that could ensue, and resolves to walk away from Ruskin and sacrifice a career opportunity of a lifetime. This proves harder than Millais imagined when he realises that he is in love with Effie.

John Millais is played by Samuel Barnett; John Ruskin by Tom Hollander; William Holman Hunt by Rafe Spall; Dante Gabriel Rossetti by Aidan Turner; and Effie Ruskin by Zoë Tapper.

Desperate Romantics is simulcast on the BBC HD channel – the BBC’s High Definition channel, available through Freesat, Sky and Virgin Media. This episode was sponsored by FreeRunJuice, experts in australian wine

Desperate Romantics – Episode 2

Jul 2, 2009 Author: admin | Filed under: Episodes
Tuesday 28 July
9.00-10.00pm BBC TWO
John Ruskin (Tom Hollander) takes an interest in the work of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

John Ruskin (Tom Hollander) takes an interest
in the work of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

The most exciting young artists of their day, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, continue in their quest for credibility, celebrity and success this week, as this lively new drama for BBC Two, starring Aidan Turner, Rafe Spall, Samuel Barnett and Sam Crane and written by Peter Bowker, continues. With the help of their new friend, journalist Fred Walters, the group have caught the attention of the pre-eminent art critic of the day, John Ruskin, and now have to persuade him to buy their work.

The prodigious and impossibly talented John Millais sets about rustling up a “masterpiece” to show Ruskin. The work is Ophelia, and he chooses model Lizzie Siddal to sit for him. Rossetti, who is convinced that he is nothing without Lizzie as his muse, is furious with Millais for taking her from under his nose. Hunt, meanwhile, attempts a masterpiece of his own, with street girl Annie Miller once again sitting for him.

Having lost his virginity to Annie, Hunt remains unable to resist her charms and is cast into turmoil as he battles with his strong religious belief and conflicting sexual desire. Everything in the Brothers’ world comes crashing to a halt, however, when Lizzie falls unconscious with pneumonia while posing as Ophelia in a bath of cold water – Millais, distracted by thoughts of Ruskin’s beautiful young wife, Effie, had failed to notice Lizzie sinking into a decline. As Lizzie’s life hangs in the balance, so does Millais’s masterpiece – and, thereby, the Brotherhood’s most promising chance of gaining recognition. However, Rossetti no longer cares about the future of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood as he contemplates a future without the woman he loves.

Fred Walters is played by Sam Crane; John Ruskin by Tom Hollander; John Millais by Samuel Barnett; Lizzie Siddal by Amy Manson; Dante Gabriel Rossetti by Aidan Turner; William Holman Hunt by Rafe Spall; Annie Miller by Jennie Jacques; and Effie Ruskin by Zoë Tapper.

Desperate Romantics is simulcast on the BBC HD channel – the BBC’s High Definition channel, available through Freesat, Sky and Virgin Media.

Desperate Romantics – Episode 1

Jul 1, 2009 Author: admin | Filed under: Episodes
Tuesday 21 July
9.00-10.00pm BBC TWO
John Millais (Samuel Barnett), Fred Walters (Sam Crane), Dante Gabriel Rossetti (Aidan Turner) and William Holman Hunt (Rafe Spall) are Desperate Romantics
John Millais (Samuel Barnett), Fred Walters (Sam Crane) Dante Gabriel Rossetti (Aidan Turner) and William Holman Hunt (Rafe Spall) are Desperate Romantics

Rebellious, talented and charismatic, three young men – The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood – are on a mission to change the world of art. This lively new drama for BBC Two, starring Aidan Turner, Rafe Spall, Samuel Barnett and Sam Crane and written by Peter Bowker, is all about the personal life and work of the Brotherhood.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt and John Millais declare their irreverent genius to the Victorian artistic establishment as frequently and as loudly as they can. Unfortunately for them, only one man seems to be listening. Fred Walters is a shy hanger-on who ingratiates himself with the Brotherhood by locating the “perfect model” – flame-haired Lizzie Siddal, a hat-shop assistant. Though none of them quite yet realise it, she is soon to be the most famous model in Britain.

Fred immediately falls in love with Lizzie, but he cannot compete with Rossetti’s charisma and self-belief. Lizzie, meanwhile, begins to model first for the hard-working and pugnacious Hunt.

The boys’ adventurous, anti-establishment style and choice of subject matter and model brings them to the notice of brilliant and influential art critic John Ruskin. Encouraged by Ruskin’s interest, and still smarting over their rejection by the Royal Academy, the boys decide to mount an exhibition of their own. One step away from anonymity and poverty, they invite Ruskin in the hope of securing his approval, which is vital to launching them into a world of fame and fortune.

As they work towards each painting becoming a masterpiece for their make-or-break exhibition, they find themselves distracted by poverty, hunger, jealousy and lust.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti is played by Aidan Turner; William Holman Hunt by Rafe Spall; John Millais by Samuel Barnett; Fred Walters by Sam Crane; Lizzie Siddal by Amy Manson; and John Ruskin by Tom Hollander. Desperate Romantics also stars Jennie Jacques as Annie Miller and Zoë Tapper as Effie Ruskin.

Desperate Romantics – Episode 6

Jun 26, 2009 Author: admin | Filed under: Episodes
Tuesday 25 August

9.00-10.00pm BBC TWO
Lizzie's (Amy Manson) life spirals out of control

Lizzie’s (Amy Manson) life spirals out of control

Rossetti and Lizzie return from their honeymoon, ready to settle into conventional married life, in the final episode of BBC Two’s drama following the lives and loves of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. However, when Millais proposes the idea of an artistic colony for the Brotherhood and their wives, Rossetti is immediately attracted by the bohemian notion of group living. Lizzie – used to Rossetti’s wandering eye – is less than enthusiastic.

True to form, within days of their return, Rossetti starts up a flirtation with William Morris’s wife, Jane Burden. Ruskin also abandons Lizzie, withdrawing his support for her art. As her life seemingly spirals out of control, Lizzie turns to the highly potent narcotic, laudanum, to numb her pain.

Hunt, meanwhile, sets out to win back Annie Miller, hoping to persuade her to move into Millais’s colony with him. He sends Fred to deliver his latest offer of marriage. Annie, unsurprisingly, has had enough of Hunt and tells Fred that she has no intention of accepting the proposal. Fred seizes his own chance of happiness and proposes to her himself, even though he’s still in love with Lizzie. Annie laughs off the offer, leaving Fred humiliated and vowing, in future, to always tell the truth, no matter how brutal.

When Fred chooses the fragile Lizzie as a recipient of one of his home truths, little can he imagine the devastating consequences…

Aidan Turner plays Dante Gabriel Rossetti; Amy Manson plays Lizzie Siddal; Samuel Barnett plays John Millais; Natalie Thomas plays Jane Burden; Tom Hollander plays John Ruskin; Rafe Spall plays William Holman Hunt; Jennie Jacques plays Annie Miller; and Sam Crane plays Fred Walters.

Desperate Romantics is simulcast on the BBC HD channel – the BBC’s High Definition channel, available through Freesat, Sky and Virgin Media.

Desperate Romantics – Episode 5

Jun 25, 2009 Author: admin | Filed under: Episodes
Tuesday 18 August

9.00-10.00pm BBC TWO
Lizzie (Amy Manson ) and Rossetti (Aidan Turner) enjoy their new-found wealth

Lizzie (Amy Manson ) and Rossetti (Aidan Turner)
enjoy their new-found wealth

Rossetti and Lizzie revel in their new-found status and wealth, acquired courtesy of Ruskin’s generous patronage, as the Pre-Raphaelite drama continues. Swept up in a whirlwind of late-night partying and debauchery they forget all about their art, including the commissions that they’ve promised to complete. Ruskin’s displeasure at their antics prompts him to threaten withdrawal of his support unless Rossetti and Lizzie focus on their commitments.

While Lizzie is swift to obey Ruskin’s orders, Rossetti, as usual, struggles to knuckle down. Instead he embarks on a raunchy affair with street girl, Fanny Cornforth. Fanny – unlike Lizzie – has a voluptuous beauty that inspires Rossetti to a new, richer and more sensual style of painting. Indeed, Fanny’s unbridled hedonism, as opposed to Lizzie’s tendency towards neurosis, seems to inspire a new lease of life in Rossetti altogether.

Rossetti receives further creative succour from his new young students, William Morris and Ned Burne-Jones, who offer their unadulterated worship and their much-needed assistance with a new commission for a church mural. While Rossetti enjoys himself, Lizzie, forever worried about losing him to another woman, struggles to keep her distance. It seems only a matter of time before she returns to find him in Fanny’s arms…

Dante Gabriel Rossetti is played by Aidan Turner; Lizzie Siddal by Amy Manson; John Ruskin by Tom Hollander; Fanny Cornforth by Rebecca Davies; William Morris by Dyfrig Morri; and Ned Burne-Jones by Peter Sandys-Clarke.

The cast also includes Rafe Spall as William Holman Hunt; Samuel Barnett as John Millais; Sam Crane as Fred Walters; Jennie Jacques as Annie Miller; and Zoë Tapper as Effie Ruskin.

Desperate Romantics is simulcast on the BBC HD channel – the BBC’s High Definition channel, available through Freesat, Sky and Virgin Media.

Desperate Romantics – introduction

Jun 25, 2009 Author: admin | Filed under: Background

(l-r) Samuel Barnett as John Millais, Aidan Turner as Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Rafe Spall as William Holman Hunt, Sam Crane as Fred Walters

BBC Two’s exciting new six-part drama, Desperate Romantics, set in the throbbing heart of 19th-century industrial London, follows the adventures of three men who created what would become one of Britain’s most important art movements: the self-styled “Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood”.

Starring as the maverick group of English artists, their associates and muses are: Aidan Turner (Being Human, The Clinic), Rafe Spall (A Room With A View, Hot Fuzz), Tom Hollander (John Adams, Pride And Prejudice), Samuel Barnett (Beautiful People, The History Boys), Zoe Tapper (Survivors, Demons), Amy Manson (Torchwood), Sam Crane (Church Going) and Jennie Jacques (The Bill).

Amidst a backdrop of alleys, galleries and flesh-houses of 19th-century industrial London, Desperate Romantics follows the life and love affairs of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a group of revolutionary artists as well-known for their intertwining love lives as for their ground-breaking paintings.

The scandalous love triangles with their models became the subject of much gossip among their contemporaries, particularly as these relationships often crossed the class barriers of polite Victorian society.

Rafe Spall stars as William ‘Maniac’ Holman Hunt, a founding member of the Brotherhood; Tom Hollander plays the influential art critic and patron John Ruskin; Aidan Turner is Dante Gabriel Rossetti, notorious for seducing his models; Samuel Barnett plays John Everett Millais, whose relationship with Ruskin’s wife, Effie, played by Zoe Tapper, created fevered public speculation; Amy Manson plays Rossetti’s true love Lizzie Siddal, the model for Millais’ most highly regarded painting, Ophelia; Sam Crane plays Fred Walters, the group’s loyal friend and diarist; and Jennie Jacques plays Annie Miller, the prostitute whose relationship with Hunt has dramatic repercussions.

This colourful drama from BBC Drama Production is written by award-winning writer Peter Bowker (Blackpool, Occupation) and executive produced by Hilary Salmon (Criminal Justice, House Of Saddam), for BBC Drama Production.

Co-executive producer is Franny Moyle, whose factual book, Desperate Romantics: The Private Lives Of The Pre-Raphaelites, has inspired the drama series. The series is produced by Ben Evans (Kenneth Williams: Fantabulosa!, Curse Of Comedy).

Kate Harwood, Controller, Series and Serials, BBC Drama Production, says: “Desperate Romantics paints a modern, vivid and irreverent portrait of a group of young painters whose attitude to the establishment makes them comparable to the punks a hundred years later.”

Aidan Turner as Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Category: TV Drama; BBC Two

Dante Gabriel Rossetti was the playboy and agent provocateur of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood – the Casanova of his time. Engaged for 10 years to shop assistant-turned-model Lizzie Siddal, the woman he eventually married, this didn’t stop him sleeping around, much to the chagrin of his friends.

Rossetti is played by Aidan Turner in BBC Two’s new drama about the Brotherhood, whose other members are John Millais, William Holman Hunt and, in this story, Fred Walters, an amalgam of several other people in the men’s lives at the time.

Aidan, who recently starred as vampire Mitchell in BBC Three’s Being Human, describes Rossetti as an “absolute free spirit. He’s a chancer and a womaniser – he’s a libertine in every sense of the word.

“Rossetti trained in an art college briefly and left to pursue his life as an artist and met Hunt. Hunt kind of trained him more and he’s striving to be as good as the other guys. He’s highly ambitious but he has this sort of lethargic attitude a lot of the time and doesn’t really like to put in the hard work but wants the results. He’s not quite as talented as the others and he knows it in the back of his head, but he tries.”

Aidan says all the members of the Brotherhood are completely different – John Millais is the truly talented one, Holman Hunt has intensity like no other and, as for Rossetti, whose works include Girlhood Of Mary, Virgin and Ecce Ancilli Domini, what he lacks in talent he makes up for in confidence.

“Hunt is the first member of the brotherhood that Rossetti meets and they become really close. Next is John Millais, the prodigal child. He’s the one true genius of the group – he doesn’t even need to work that hard, it just comes naturally to him. And then there’s Fred, who idolises Rossetti in a way, he looks up to him so much and tries to be like him and dresses like him. He really yearns for that confidence and cockiness that Rossetti has.

“They’re all such different characters, you kind of wonder why they’re friends but I guess all friendships are like that. Most of my friends are radically different people. I don’t think I really like people like me,” he laughs, “I don’t have time for them, they’re just too close – they do your head in!

“I guess that’s just how they worked, though – they bounced off each other.”

Rossetti is, undoubtedly, a charmer who gets what he wants – no matter who he hurts along the way. But despite these shortcomings, Aidan hopes he’s playing a likeable character.

“That’s my big thing in this drama – to make him likeable, because a lot of the time he might come off as petulant. He’s a problematic character; he’s intensely passionate and wears his heart on his sleeve. He says what he thinks and what he feels, and a lot of the time it’s frustration, especially in the first three episodes – he’s frustrated that he’s not getting to the places that he wants to be and these other guys are, and he just can’t understand why – he doesn’t want to give in to the fact that it’s probably his lack of talent and tact.

“He’s one of these people that life seems to go really smoothly for because he just rests on other people’s hard work.”

Rossetti’s long – and ultimately doomed – love affair with Lizzie begins when the Brotherhood look for a model to paint. It’s well-documented that the men often engaged in after-hours activities with their models and Lizzie was no exception.

“Hunt, Rossetti and Millais want to find a beautiful red-headed woman and Fred Walters spots Lizzie working in a hat shop one day and tells the rest of them that he’s seen this incredible goddess in the hat shop and they go and check her out.”

It soon becomes clear that Fred has fallen for Lizzie, too, but, as always, Rossetti gets the girl: “Fred hates the way Rossetti treats her, and rightly so,” says Aidan.

“So many people at the time pointed out to Rossetti that you can’t treat people like that. He’d constantly just sleep with other women: he had no qualms about stuff like that.”

Aidan admits that, while he knew little of Rossetti and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood before taking on the role, he could now probably use the group as his specialist subject were he to be a contestant on Mastermind: “Do you know what, I probably could – I know so much about this guy!” he laughs.

“I’d heard of Rossetti and I recognised some of the Brotherhood paintings but I didn’t even study art in secondary school. But that’s the great thing about this job – you can completely immerse yourself in a character. There’s so much information on these guys – endless amounts of books and a fantastic website which has everything he’s ever done, every sketch he’s ever made, every painting he’s ever painted.”

Having spent much of the end of 2008 filming BBC Three’s hit drama Being Human (which returns for a second series next year), how does playing an historical figure compare with playing Mitchell the vampire?

“I’ve not played a lot of real-life people who have existed before and I love it,” says Aidan. “I approach it in a completely different way – as regards Mitchell I had to make up the story, nobody would ever know, whereas Rossetti’s back story obviously existed, so that work was done.”

Now that he’s played Rossetti, Aidan admits he would love to play more of his heroes but he fears at six foot he’s a little too tall for the roles he’d like: “I’d love to play Napoleon but I’m probably too tall. I’m slightly obsessed with him. I’d also love to play Barry McGuigan, the Irish boxer, but I look nothing like him. He’s tiny and he’s got this funny ‘tache and looks very Irish and I don’t,” he laughs.

Rafe Spall as William Holman Hunt
Category: TV Drama; BBC Two

With the nickname “Maniac”, William Holman Hunt was surely someone to keep an eye out for, particularly as he thought he’d been given the nickname for all the right reasons. But for Hunt, one of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, played by Rafe Spall, the nickname was more likely to be down to his weird, wild and wonderful ways.

“He thinks it’s because of his dogmatic work ethic, but his friends think otherwise – he’s a bit wild and he’s very intense and he’s portrayed as a very strong Christian,” says Rafe, who is best known for roles in the movies Shaun Of The Dead, Hot Fuzz and Wide Sargasso Sea and TV dramas including The Rotters’ Club, The Chatterley Affair and Frankie Howerd – Rather You Than Me, in which he starred alongside David Walliams as Howerd’s partner, Dennis Heymer.

Hunt became successful in the mid-19th century for his religious paintings including The Light Of The World, The Scapegoat, Finding Of The Saviour In The Temple and The Shadow Of Death. But it was his relationship with prostitute Annie Miller that drew him a lot of unwanted attention, driving him to distraction and almost causing him to have a breakdown. It was also this relationship that was the catalyst for him taking a hiatus from the Brotherhood.

Hunt was at odds with himself over this relationship, says Rafe: “His conflict in this drama is the fact that he is a man of God, but he is also obsessed by a prostitute so, to justify this, he gives her lessons in deportment and manners and skills, sort of My Fair Lady style.

“It was a massive love affair. They never married [Hunt later married Fanny Waugh, and then her sister, after his first wife died in childbirth] but it went on for a long time and I’m sure there would have been a big scandal and Hunt would’ve been really embarrassed by the fact that he was in love with a prostitute. But he wanted to change her – he wanted to turn her into something different.”

As with any troublesome affairs of the heart, it was Hunt’s close friends – all members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood – who helped him through the dark times.

“They’re inseparable, these three artists and Fred, they’re a Brotherhood – they’re the best of friends and the worst of enemies in the way that they’re fiercely competitive with each other, like a lot of friendship groups, who all do the same job. But Rossetti, Millais and Hunt – they love each other.

“They were a very incestuous group. Much of the source material for the drama is based on fact and what Franny Moyle has done brilliantly with her book is taken their stories and enriched them with genuine human emotion.

Hunt decides he needs to get away from Miller and the Brotherhood and goes on a voyage of self-discovery to the Holy Land, telling the boys ‘when I get back she’ll be much better’.”

It was this hiatus, though, that spelt the end of the relationship.

“I think it changed him in the fact that he went and saw more of the world,” says Rafe. “He went on his own, he wanted to get away from Annie while she was turning into a lady, so he could come back and she’d be the lady he’d always wanted her to be. When he gets back, he finds that it was actually Annie’s grubbiness that he was attracted to and the lady he turned her into, he isn’t interested in any more.

“The thing with Annie Miller,” he continues, “is that she was famous – she was a famous prostitute in real life, people knew who she was. And she went on to marry a Lord. She became a huge society girl.”

Rafe admits that he knew little about the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood before taking on this role so the drama has been a real eye-opener for him.

“When you think of Pre-Raphaelite painters you think of girls with red hair and maybe Ophelia. But now I’ve seen a lot of the paintings in the flesh and they’re incredible. They’re so impressive. The detail in them is just immense and I think some of them are really beautiful. I think Rossetti’s paintings are my favourite. Hunt wasn’t one for making pretty pictures; he wanted to tell the truth and he wanted to make things look real, at the expense of being beautiful. He didn’t really care about beauty, he just wanted reality.”

Rafe believes that Tracey Emin and Damian Hirst are the modern-day equivalent of the Brotherhood in the art world and that Hunt, Millais, Rossetti et al were the celebrities of their time, blowing out of the water suggestions that it’s only in the 20th and 21st century that people have become obsessed with celebrity culture: “The age of celebrity isn’t a new thing. The fact is they were really famous and the models they painted were the Kate Moss of their day and they were more famous than Tracey Emin and Damian Hirst – they’re just as radical and just as strange.

“They were the modern painters of the day and the strangest, most out-there modern artists that you can imagine. The reason I’m interested in the drama is to show that young artists have always got drunk, slept with loads of girls and taken drugs – nothing’s new.”

Hunt became one of the most famous painters in British, if not world, history, according to Rafe and was “fiercely ambitious”, a characteristic he greatly admires.

“I can relate to him in the fact that I’m an artist of sorts and I’m ambitious and I really care about what I do and put a lot of effort into it, and the same can be said for Hunt.

“I even get to wear a big beard for the last three episodes and really go for it!” he laughs. “I’ve done lots of really different stuff and I’m very lucky to be able to do that and I’m really grateful to Ben Evans, the producer, for giving me the chance and I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s taken a lot of research and a lot of hard work and it’s a lot of fun.”

In fact, Rafe put so much into his preparation for the role that he took lessons so that his character would look the part when painting on to a canvas. “I went to a life-drawing class and someone came in and showed us how to hold a paintbrush!”

So does Rafe think he could have a future in the art world, following the lessons?

“I think you’ve either got it or you haven’t… and I haven’t!”

(l-r) Samuel Barnett as John Millais, Sam Crane as Fred Walters, Aidan Turner as Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Rafe Spall as William Holman Hunt
Category: TV Drama; BBC Two

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was a group of exciting and innovative artists who threw the buttoned-up Victorian art world into chaos with their revolutionary paintings and promiscuous love lives, but this isn’t scriptwriter Peter Bowker’s first brush with the maverick group of artists.

“When I was growing up, I thought they were the greatest artists that ever lived. I think there’s something quintessentially ‘youthful’ that these three guys are struggling with; their regard for women and what they’re trying to portray strikes me as very testosterone-filled, so there’s no surprise young men like me were interested in them.”

In what looks like a big departure from Occupation, his critically acclaimed drama about the Iraq War, the award-winning writer explains his decision to write a drama about art history.

“When I started to look at some of the extraordinary stories and peculiar details of the source material that Franny (Moyle) had written in her book, it wasn’t long before it became clear that we had the basis of three great, distinct characters in these young men.

“The thing that really interested me was, although Millais is often regarded as the most gifted, it was Rossetti who was very much the leader of the group. Everybody who met him said charisma, charisma, charisma. He was very funny, and in his letters, he’s always begging for money or ‘tin’. I loved his politeness combined with a ‘give me everything you’ve got’ approach. I think we’ve all met or known people like this, women fall for them and men love their company. There was also a kind of Jim Morrison story to him: at the very end of his life he wasn’t thin and beautiful but corrupted and bloated.

“As Millais was a child prodigy, I imagined he would have been singled out and even bullied at school. In spite of these experiences, he has a certain breezy cluelessness combined with a steely ambition, so I re-imagined him with some of the traits of a member of a boy band!”

“With Holman Hunt, the key was his very disturbed sexual passion in conflict with his religious zealousness. You can see it in Hunt’s face: a simultaneous revulsion and fascination with prostitution, and in a way that made him a gift of a character to write.

“The decision to include a fictional narrator was partly there to help articulate how fast the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood grew, both in terms of success and reputation. The character of Fred Walters, a writer on the edge of the group, was an amalgam of a few real contemporaries of the Brotherhood, and I created him in order to tell stories from an outsider perspective.”

Bowker goes on to explain the impact and power of the emerging media of the day and how this fed into the notoriety of the Pre-Raphaelites.

“This period saw great industrial and social change, and I think it was the beginning of the world of art as we recognise it now. These guys exploded at the same time as the phenomenon of daily newspapers, and art was arguably the most popular entertainment of the day: so that would explain how they became in some ways a cause celebre of the Victorians. Here are three young men, working in the most exciting medium of their day, blowing the art world apart. You can’t underestimate their impact: it would have been like when you first heard punk, heard hip-hop or first saw a Damien Hirst piece.

“The other great thing for me as a writer is these characters enable you to shift gear from the comic to the tragic. One minute you’re laughing at someone’s appallingly sexist hypocrisy and the next minute someone is dying of terrible laudanum abuse. In Victorian England, unerringly it’s the women who pay the price. With Lizzie, I don”t think it was the laudanum that killed her, it was Rossetti. Having said that, Annie Miller was an interesting exception: a street prostitute who aspired to a better life, she did snare a Lord in real life.

“The interesting thing about these boys is, in some ways they are the most attractive and articulate characters I’ve ever written, yet also at times woefully out of touch with reality and in their youthful idealism they probably bit off more than they could chew in their manifesto! There’s a great comedy and vicarious excitement to be had by watching their struggle.

[Note: The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood defined themselves as a reform movement, and they set out to create art in a more detailed, colourful and complex manner, rejecting the more mechanistic, Classical approach that had been almost universally adopted since the work of Raphael and Michelangelo.]

As to what the audience will get from the drama, Peter says: “I hope they’ll be surprised that art history can be so lively, I hope they will be entertained and enjoy the humour and I hope the drama will also stimulate interest in the art and society of the time.”


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