The Libertine (2004)

Rated R. Our ratings: V-4 ; L-5 ; S/N-6

For the wicked boast of the desires of their heart,
those greedy for gain curse and renounce the Lord.
In the pride of their countenance the wicked say, ‘God will not seek it out’;
all their thoughts are, ‘There is no God.’
Psalm 10:3-4

The Libertine

Some folk are drawn to the lives of the wicked because allegedly they are more interesting than the good. That must be the case with playwright Stephen Jeffreys, who adapted for the screen his play based on the life of John Wilmot the Second Earl of Rochester (1647-1680), a 17th century English rake who revels in his debauched condition. At the beginning of the film he looks at us and says, “You will not like me.” How right he is, even though it is the likeable Johnny Depp who portrays him.

King Charles II (John Malkovich), who at times banishes from the court his favorite writer because of his scandalous behavior, wants Rochester to write an epic play for the coming visit of the King of France. It is the kind of commission that could inspire a Shakespeare to create a masterpiece, but Rochester comes up with a play so obscene and so mocking of the royal personages that banishment seems like a kind punishment. Had Charles not liked his impertinent subject so much because he valued intelligence and wit over the flattery of others, no doubt the Earl would have landed in the Tower or on the block. Rochester’s downward slide accelerates even more after this mocking incident.

The Earl’s moral corruption is all the sadder because of his talents. We especially see this when he offers to mentor the actress Elizabeth Barry (Samantha Morton) when she is booed off the stage because of inept acting. Rochester leads her to tap the talent buried deep within her, becoming her Pygmalion as she slowly is transformed into a goddess of the stage, able to achieve her ambition to move an audience. Because she is more intelligent than any of the other women he has seduced, Elizabeth causes him to fall in love with her, she becoming one of the great loves/lusts of his self-indulgent life. At home his long-suffering wife Elizabeth Malet (Rosamund Pike) stands by him until he finally sinks so far into his debauchery that the sexual diseases he has contracted so disfigure him and his unrepentant demeanor is so repulsive that she cannot abide him any further. Although he is truly unlikable at the end of his short 33 years, so that we could say he received what he deserved, there is also the note of sadness in seeing a life gifted with literary talent so wasted.

The Libertine Rated R. Our ratings: V-4 ; L-5 ; S/N-6 . Running time:

For the wicked boast of the desires of their heart, those greedy for gain curse and renounce the Lord.

In the pride of their countenance the wicked say, ‘God will not seek it out’; all their thoughts are, ‘There is no God.’ Psalm 10:3-4

Some folk are drawn to the lives of the wicked because allegedly they are more interesting than the good. That must be the case with playwright Stephen Jeffreys, who adapted for the screen his play based on the life of John Wilmot the Second Earl of Rochester (1647-1680), a 17th century English rake who revels in his debauched condition. At the beginning of the film he looks at us and says, “You will not like me.” How right he is, even though it is the likeable Johnny Depp who portrays him.

King Charles II (John Malkovich), who at times banishes from the court his favorite writer because of his scandalous behavior, wants Rochester to write an epic play for the coming visit of the King of France. It is the kind of commission that could inspire a Shakespeare to create a masterpiece, but Rochester comes up with a play so obscene and so mocking of the royal personages that banishment seems like a kind punishment. Had Charles not liked his impertinent subject so much because he valued intelligence and wit over the flattery of others, no doubt the Earl would have landed in the Tower or on the block. Rochester’s downward slide accelerates even more after this mocking incident.

The Earl’s moral corruption is all the sadder because of his talents. We especially see this when he offers to mentor the actress Elizabeth Barry (Samantha Morton) when she is booed off the stage because of inept acting. Rochester leads her to tap the talent buried deep within her, becoming her Pygmalion as she slowly is transformed into a goddess of the stage, able to achieve her ambition to move an audience. Because she is more intelligent than any of the other women he has seduced, Elizabeth causes him to fall in love with her, she becoming one of the great loves/lusts of his self-indulgent life. At home his long-suffering wife Elizabeth Malet (Rosamund Pike) stands by him until he finally sinks so far into his debauchery that the sexual diseases he has contracted so disfigure him and his unrepentant demeanor is so repulsive that she cannot abide him any further. Although he is truly unlikable at the end of his short 33 years, so that we could say he received what he deserved, there is also the note of sadness in seeing a life gifted with literary talent so wasted.