Dir: Rodrigo Areias | Cast: Albano Jeronimo, Edward Ashley, Victoria Guerra, Edgar Morais, Carmen Chaplin | Portugal, Drama 122′
Charles Augustus Howell, the main character in this suggestive slow-burn drama from Portuguese director from Rodrigo Areias, was certainly a mercurial character: for some he distilled the vibrant qualities of the pre-Raphaelite era, others found him a rather a machiavellian rogue, suspecting him of blackmail and even forgery.
This is not a film about art as such, but an intriguing look at 19th century high society through a group of Victorian creatives whose aim was to see the world in a more realistic and natural light, inspired by the Italian painters of the 14th and 15th century. And while they look very Victorian through our modern day gaze, behind their often inscrutable personas, Arieas and his writer paint them as arcane, subversive and mired in intrigue in their tightly-knit, incestuous coteries, preferring to focus their attention on the allure of renaissance Italy with vibrant colours that romanticised the era, rather than on the harsh realities of industrial revolution, that was gearing up in London at the time.
Pacing-wise and with its leisurely, episodic structure The Worst Man in London recalls Eugene Green’s The Portuguese Nun. We meet the characters as if introduced to them at a cocktail party, in a series of charming vignettes and graceful set pieces, the drama glows like a jewel-box in Jorge Quintela’s imaginative camerawork.
The international cast includes Carmen Chaplin who is particularly good as Lady Posselthwaite. Edward Ashley plays Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Victoria Guerra, Lizzie Siddal and Christian Vadim (son of Catherine Deneuve) La Rothiere.
Howell, born in Portugal, was not just Ruskin and Rosetti’s agent, he also served as a model for Dante Gabriel Rossetti although he seems to have been air-brushed out of history largely due to his purported skulduggery and is brought back to life as the focus of this sumptuous period piece that unfolds as a lush and finely detailed society chronicle of the day, with Howell working his way through the ranks acquiring works and establishing relationships with the great and good. One of his celebrated coups is to persuade Rossetti to dig up and sell the works of poetry buried with his wife Lizzie Siddal. Albano Jeronimo is certainly convincing in the main role of Howell, with his elegant stature and saturnine looks. @MeredithTaylor
IFFR | WORLD PREMIERE Monday 29 January 2024