Volume 75, Number 28 | Nov. 30 - Dec. 06, 2005


Directed by Laurene Dunmore
Starring Johnny Depp, Samantha Morton and John Malkovich
Playing a limited, one-week engagement at the Angelika beginning November 25
18 W. Houston between Broadway and Mercer
(212-995-2000; angelikafilmcenter.com)

Photo courtesy of The Weinstein Company

Johnny Depp is consumed by excess in “The Libertine.”

Noble Rot: ‘The Libertine’ delivers plenty of debauchery

By Noah Fowle

Early on in “The Libertine,” Johnny Depp flashes a devilish grin in his stunning portrayal of John Wilmot, the 2nd Earl of Rochester, that lets his audience know how much fun it is to embody this notorious drunk and lewd poet. A contemporary of England’s 17th Century Restoration, which signaled a change in ideas regarding government, personal choice, sexuality, and the theater, Wilmot is the perfect man to craft a period piece around.

The duplicity amid the king’s opulent court and theater, and the rank depravity of the streets mirror Depp’s character perfectly. In a time of radical excess, he gains both favor and scorn from King Charles II (John Malkovich) for his pornographic verses and brash attitudes towards women and other lords, and he uses his status to celebrate and mock society as it fits his personal agendas. But he soon becomes bored by his trite circle of friends, and turns his attention on the plain Elizabeth Barry (Samantha Morton) while penning a new play for the King. Under his tutelage, he molds her into the most sought-after actress of the day, and proceeds to fall in love with her.

All too aware of his actions and their consequences, he admits, “Any experiment in life will be carved out at your own expense,” a truism that becomes all too clear as he begins to craft a drama so deplorable it will test even his closest friendships and alliances.

“The Libertine” is more than just a film rife with love, betrayal, and humor. It is a story not only of an anti-hero but also of the time that he came to defy and defend. First-time director Laurence Dunmore exerts steady control throughout the film’s shifting themes and tones, and through his use of both impeccable sets and natural lighting, he swamps the story in smoke, mud, and mist, capturing the setting with a raw flavor rarely seen on film. “The Libertine” is carried out so well from casting to art direction to dialogue, it deserves be on people’s tongues in the coming awards season.

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