Libertine (2004)



Director:     Laurence Dunmore.

Starring:     Johnny Depp (Rochester), Samantha Morton (Elizabeth Barry), John Malkovich (King Charles II), Paul Ritter (Chiffinch), Stanley Townsend (Keown), Francesca Annis (Countess), Rosamund Pike (Elizabeth Malet), Tom Hollander (George Etherege), Johnny Vegas (Sackville), Richard Coyle (Alcock), Hugh Sachs (Ratcliffe), Tom Burke (Vaughan), Rupert Friend (Billy Downs), Jack Davenport (Harris), Trudi Jackson (Rose).


This is a very talky movie and we were bored for at least the first third of it.  The pace began to pick up which made the movie more enjoyable.  The movie is a little depressing because it about the self-destruction of an influential intellectual of King Charles II's court.  John Wilmot led a debauched lifestyle that was in character with much of the Restoration era in England.  It wasn't really that much of a life as he slowly and then quickly descended into his own personal hell, not to mention the betrayal of his wife and the disappointing of his friends.

Perhaps we could have been more sympathetic to the main character if we had followed more of his rise to fame, rather than just concentrate almost exclusively on his down slope. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:

1647  --  Rochester was born in Ditchley, Oxfordshire.  His mother and father were very different; his mother was a Parliamentarian and Puritan and his father was a hard-drinking Royalist. 

1652  --  his father was created Earl of Rochester for military services to Charles II during his exile.

1658  --  his father died abroad. 

1659  --  at age 12, Rochester matriculated at Wardham College, Oxford.  Even then he was considered somewhat debauched.

1661  --  at age 14, he earned an M.A. degree.  It was his uncle that was Chancellor of the University.

After graduation  --  he made a Grand Tour of France and Italy.  He returned to London, where he became a frequenter of the Restoration court of Charles II. 

He became a hero for the courage he showed in a sea-battle against the Dutch.

1665  --  he attempted to abduct Elizabeth Malet, a witty heiress, at Charing Cross.  John was arrested and sent to the Tower.

1665-1680  --  Rochester was part of tThe Merry Gang, which  included Henry Jermyn, Charles Sackville, Earl of Dorset, John Sheffield, Earl of Mulgrave, Henry Killigrew, Sir Charles Sedley, the playwrights William Wycherley and George Etherege, and George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham.

1667 --  at age 20, he married Elizabeth Malet, the woman he had kidnapped earlier.

Rochester led a dual life.  In the country he was all domesticity, but he hated the country for its inactilvity.  He constantly needed stimulation. At court he led a life of drunkenness, great conversation, and "extravagant frolics".  He had many affairs with both men and women.

He was banished from court for his scurrilous lampoon on Charles II.

Rochester absolutely loved the theatre and was a great patron of the theatres.  He coached his mistress Elizabeth Barry that helped her become the greatest actress of the Restoration stage. (But many modern scholars doubt the veracity of the story.)

1676  --  Rochester was the model for the witty, poetry-reciting rake Dorimant in Etherege's The Man of Mode.

1680  --  by age 33, Rochester was dying of a combination of alcoholism, syphilis and other veneral diseases. His flesh began to decay and he had to conceal his nose beneath a silver nasion. He also used heavy pancake makeup to hide his facial deterioration .

On his deathbed, he renounced his atheism.  He was eventually buried in Spelsbury, Oxfordshire.




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