Depp is best part of often-dreary ‘Libertine’

  • By Robert Horton / Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, March 9, 2006 9:00pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

A very interesting film that doesn’t quite come off, “The Libertine” looks at the hedonistic life of the Earl of Rochester, a 17th century poet and scandal-maker. Need we add at this point that the role is played by Johnny Depp, with his pirate curls and top-drawer English accent?

Depp’s performance, and the elaborate dialogue by playwright Stephen Jeffreys, make “The Libertine” a watchable and sometimes maniacally funny film. First-time director Laurence Dunmore drowns the movie in a thick fog of brown smoke and gloom, making it into perhaps the dreariest film ever made about a hedonist.

Depp begins his performance by staring out at the audience and announcing, “You will not like me.” Fair enough, although it is possible to enjoy the Earl’s wit and disregard for public favor.

Rochester writes erotic – well, let’s just say dirty – poetry, and conducts himself in such an outrageous manner that King Charles II (John Malkovich) is perpetually putting him in the royal doghouse. The king changes his mind when he suspects Rochester could be his Shakespeare, and might write a play that would bring them both eternal glory.

Meanwhile, Rochester meets a young actress (Samantha Morton, good as always) whose view of the world is as jaundiced as his. Their theatrical experiences are reminiscent of “Stage Beauty,” which was also set during Charles II’s reign.

Rochester has a long-suffering wife, fiercely sketched in a few scenes by Rosamund Pike (much stronger here than as the pretty older sister in “Pride &Prejudice”).

Much of the film is designed to remind us that England’s past was hardly the well-appointed palace of “Masterpiece Theatre.” It’s more like a gross den of drunkenness, disease and foul language, an idea capped by Rochester’s stroll through a St. James Park that looks like the outtakes from a Fellini movie.

A lot of this feels tired, but when the movie concentrates on Rochester’s caustic wit, it scores. The script is full of barbed one-liners, as when Rochester equates the condition of being human with being “no better than a monkey who knows the names of its ancestors.” He knows full well he is “the cynic of this golden age,” and his tragedy is that his own imagination is so much more interesting than real life, thus his glorious boredom at the world.

Malkovich played Rochester in the stage version of “The Libertine,” which must have been a hoot. Depp brings his own debauched air to the role, the only drawback being the sense that he’s been down this road before. Yes, Depp knows excess and dissipation. Good practice for those “Pirates of the Caribbean” sequels on the way.

“The Libertine” HH

Watchable: Johnny Depp stars as the debauched, hedonistic Earl of Rochester, a 17th century poet and scandal-maker. The film is gloomy but redeemed by a witty script, with good support from John Malkovich and Samantha Morton.

Rated: R rating is for language

Now showing: Alderwood, Mountlake 9, Meridian, Guild 45th, Woodinville, Cascade Mall

Talk to us

More in Life

Ash was rescued along with Dexter, just before his euthanasia date. (Luisa Loi / Whidbey News-Times)
Whidbey Island woman rescues 300 German shepherds

“Can I save them all? No,” Renee Carr, of Oak Harbor said. “But I’m gonna try my hardest.”

The 2023 Infiniti QX80 has standard rear-wheel drive and optional four-wheel drive available on all models. (Infiniti)
2023 Infiniti QX80 is powerful and posh

A mighty V8 engine does the work while a luxurious interior provides the pleasure.

Kotor's zigzagging town wall rewards climbers with a spectacular view. (Cameron Hewitt / Rick Steves' Europe)
Rick Steves: Just south of Dubrovnik lies unpolished Montenegro

One of Europe’s youngest nations offers dramatic scenery, locals eager to show off their unique land, and a refreshing rough-around-the-edges appeal.

Artist Michelle Downes prepares to work on a few canvases in her garage workspace on Thursday, July 6, 2023, at her family’s home in Stanwood, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Stanwood artist Michelle Downes creates layered dreamscapes in resin

Resin is one part chemistry and one part artistry. Downes combines the two to make art that captures the imagination.

With winter on the way, October is the time to tuck and roll

That means preparing to put our gardens to bed while taking stock of the season gone by so we can plan for the year ahead.

Made by Bruce Hutchison, the poster for “A Momentary Diversion on the Road to the Grave” is an homage to 1985 classic “The Goonies.” (Photo provided)
Indie film premiering on Whidbey Island

Filmed almost entirely on Whidbey Island, “A Momentary Diversion on the Road to the Grave” is set to premiere in Langley.

TSR image only
Does your elementary school child have ADHD?

It’s important to identify children with this condition so we can help them succeed in school.

Great Plant Pick: Acer japonicum Aconitifolium

Fernleaf full moon maple, known for its foliage, develops brilliant fall color whether in full sun or shade.

Home grocery delivery predates online shopping by decades

This bicycle from 1930s England was built for delivering groceries. It sold at auction for $1,200 in U.S. currency.

Barb Denton smiles and laughs with her Jeep Cherokee Laredo that she has driven for 32 years on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
‘Red Dragon,’ stolen from Sea-Tac, mysteriously returns home to Everett

Barb Denton’s rig of 348,000 miles was found three miles from home, intact, with a half-tank of gas and an empty bag of Oberto sticks.

This photo provided by OceanGate Expeditions shows a submersible vessel named Titan used to visit the wreckage site of the Titanic. In a race against the clock on the high seas, an expanding international armada of ships and airplanes searched Tuesday, June 20, 2023, for the submersible that vanished in the North Atlantic while taking five people down to the wreck of the Titanic. (OceanGate Expeditions via AP)
A new movie based on OceanGate’s Titan submersible tragedy is in the works: ‘Salvaged’

MindRiot announced the film, a fictional project titled “Salvaged,” on Friday.

This Vacasa rental is disgusting. Can I get my money back?

The vacation rental Carol Wilson books for her group through Vacasa is infested with rats and insects. Vacasa offers to refund one night, but can they get all of their money back?