Edward II

Institute History


It's unfortunate that Derek Jarman and Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe lived four centuries apart. They could have hung out and gone drinking together. They had a lot in common.

That's one reason why Jarman was the perfect person to adapt Marlowe's controversial play Edward II to the screen and the twentieth century. The story concerns a king (Steven Waddington) who is ready to sacrifice everything—the love of his people, the stability of his country, even his throne—to be with Piers Gaveston (Andrew Tiernan), the man he loves. Edward's obsessive devotion to Gaveston makes him easy prey for the ambitions of his spurned and bitter wife, Isabella (Tilda Swinton, who won the best actress award at the Venice Film Festival for her performance), and the unscrupulous Mortimer (Nigel Terry), who are equally obsessed with power.

Jarman retains much of Marlowe's dialogue but infuses the adaptation with his own attitudes, artistry, and flamboyant style. The dank, dark settings are thrown into relief by chiaroscuro lighting, painterly compositions, vivid colors, and ornate costumes, and Jarman self-consciously inserts musical numbers and the trappings of a police state, even an Act-Up demonstration, to always remind us we are watching a film, an artificial construct.

Jarman's untimely death in 1994 from AIDS deprived independent cinema and England of one if its unique artistic auteurs. This screening pays tribute to his legacy and is especially timely because filmmaker Isaac Julien's paean to Jarman, Derek, is playing as part of the World Cinema Documentary Competition.

— Barbara Bannon

Screening Details

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