Pandaemonium

Movie Review by Alice Castle

Starring: Linus Roache, John Hannah, Samantha Morton, Emily Woof, Emma Fielding

Director: Julien Temple

If your knowledge of the romantic poets is limited to knowing the lines “I wandered lonely as a cloud….” or Frankie goes to Hollywood singing “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan….” in “Welcome to the Pleasure Dome” then you may not be instantly attracted to the life stories of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth. With Lord Byron as their leader, the romantic poets were the pop stars of their day – and just like rock ‘n’ rollers today, the poets of the past found inspiration in the sensations of experimentation with mind enhancing drugs.

Gas – the liberator of mankind, laudanum, tinctures of opium were both easily available for the chattering classes of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. This was an age of political instability, fear that revolution might find a way across the English Channel and sweep away the status quo. The romantic poets, some of them sympathetic with political rebellion, found solace in the beauty of nature.

Linus Roache plays Samuel Taylor Coleridge from his youth as a passionate revolutionary to his middle age as a creative genius destroyed by drug addiction. John Hannah is Wordsworth, cooler and more aloof – a man who one of the secondary characters remarks “doesn’t say very much”. PANDAEMONIUM is a story of life getting in the way of true art as wives, sisters and professional rivalry both inspire and paralyse the creative flow. Much is made of the relationship between William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy and in turn the closeness between Dorothy and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

The theme underlying the film is that of Coleridge’s ancient mariner. If man cuts himself away from nature he risks everything. Director Julien Temple attempts to contemporise the theme by intermingling the eighteenth century backdrop with scenes of oil spillages, nuclear power stations and natural destruction from our own times.

As a costume drama the film works – and it highlights the natural beauty of the lakes and the English countryside which inspired the romantic poets – but unfortunately some of the cultural observations seem at times too obviously intended for an American audience who might need some of the issues pointed out to them. Roache is a convincing Coleridge, and Hannah a suitably repressed Wordsworth but the female characters, Emily Woof as Dorothy Wordsworth and Samantha Morton as Coleridge’s wife Sara didn’t really do it for me. But if the intention of PANDAEMONIUM is as Temple explains, to make our heritage accessible to everyone, then this film is a valuable inducement to reading the poems of the past.

3 out of 6 stars

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