Friday, May 01, 2015

The Human Muppets of the Civil War

It's comforting to know that nowadays if Peter Capaldi's head was chopped off he'd just grow another one, though it wouldn't be him. Nevertheless, he was strikingly good casting as Charles I in a four part, 2008 series called The Devil's Whore. Not that he has a big part, Dominic West plays Oliver Cromwell nicely but his part is smaller than it ought to be, too, because most of the movie is for some reason concerned with the fictional Angelica Fanshawe who, for all the time she's given, never manages to display any particular personality traits and certainly never shows us why all the men are in love with her. She is really beautiful and actress Andrea Riseborough does a decent enough job--that's her at the bottom of the screen.

Again and again, the series puts people's heads at the bottom, possibly to signify the forces of fate and government as the heavens dwarfing the poor mortals but it's so overdone it's just distracting. It usually feels like the camera is trying to direct my attention away from the actual point of interest. Lazily repeating a device is not a solution to talking heads.

We meet Angelica as she's about to be married to her childhood friend and cousin, Harry Fanshawe (Ben Aldridge). The King who attends their wedding. It's here she finally starts to figure out people are upset with the King though all of her servants seem to know and try to keep her from talking to a pamphleteer's wife. Angelica also inexplicably has visions of the Devil which are never tied thematically to what's going on, the periodic appearances of a man in costume consequently just coming off as ridiculous.

For some reason her husband won't let her call him Harry, somehow apparently feeling this makes him a little boy in her eyes. Meanwhile, the grizzled and mysterious Edward Sexby shows up to serve them--and instantly falls in love with Angelica, of course, and gladly stands by her side at the bottom of the screen.

He's played by John Simm, who's really good in the role, very different from his take on The Master on Doctor Who which may have been my least favourite take on one of my least favourite characters on Doctor Who. Sexby, based on a real man who, as depicted, served both sides in the English Civil War, wants only to fight until Angelica somehow demonstrates there's more to life.

Who else is on the bottom of the screen? Why, it's Michael Fassbender as Thomas Rainsborough, wearing one of the very cool hats all the men were wearing at the time.

His relationship with Cromwell is one of the most interesting things about the series, watching them spar over the ideals of their revolution--Thomas the leveller idealist who envisions a country without inherited hierarchy and Oliver who is too weak to attempt creating a government not based on a monarchy of some kind. Unfortunately, a lot of time is wasted in Thomas falling in love with Angelica.

The series definitely has its political sympathies against Cromwell but it does spend some nice time showing the difficulty of fighting for a free country knowing that if the people were allowed to vote they'd reinstate the old monarchy. This four hour work contains a nice one hour story in between Angelica's saga of men falling in love with her and her not really doing or saying anything in particular despite everyone treating her as though she's infuriating or brilliant.

No comments:

Post a Comment