Edward II

Institute History


Derek Jarman’s adaptation of Christopher Marlowe’s sixteenth-century tragedy is not just another modern “dressing up” of a classic theatre work. It’s an exhilarating, challenging and often passionate exploration in the aesthetics of cinema. How else can one describe the combination of Annie Lennox singing Cole Porter, Act Up demonstrators invading medieval castles, and Mozart quartets being played by women in sumptuous red gowns, all within the context of an Elizabethan drama?

Jarman has been described as probably “the last of the true bohemians” by filmmaker Ken Russell, and it is certainly true that he epitomizes the filmmaker/artiste, whose aesthetic experimentation and bold vision launch an aggressive attack on traditional filmic form and structure. Jarman’s painterly interests in imagery, color, texture and tone, and his striking, yet totally unself-conscious, homosexuality give his work a special edge which slices across conventionality and indulgence with equal force. He seems the person Marlowe himself would have chosen to update his work, the work of a playwright whose own life was so “notorious” that three centuries later he was still being denied a place in Westminster Abbey’s Poet’s Corner because of his “acknowledged life and expressions,” which sounds suspiciously like a judgment on Marlowe’s own homosexuality.

Jarman’s version of Marlowe’s play tells the tale of the young, newly crowned king of England, who bestows gifts, titles, and all his devotion on his lover Gaveston, while neglecting his wife Isabella, as well as the affairs of state. This blatant favoritism incites her to conspire with the nobles and churchmen against him and ultimately leads to his downfall and disgrace.

The spirit of Marlowe’s work remains fresh and remarkably contemporary in Jarman’s hands. Accessible and entertaining, Edward II is perhaps the most creative and important film in a career which is filled with notable and profound accomplishments. One of the stars is Jarman’s longtime compatriot, Tilda Swinton, who won the best actress award at this year’s Venice Film Festival.

— Geoffrey Gilmore

Screening Details

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