"You will not like me now, and you will like me a good deal less as we go on."
The Libertine was made back in 2004, but only now is it seeing the big screen. Why it has taken so long to get there? I don't know. All I can really say, is that I am glad it did. It moves with a self-assured swagger, a confidence that borders on egotism. A slow, deliberate pace sets the stage for this tale of depravity and the downward spiral that was the fate of its subject.
The movie is an entertaining look into the life and times of 2nd Earl of Rochester, John Wilmot, who was known for being friends with King Charles II, as much as for his womanizing and drinking, and to another extent, his writing. His sad life and times are captured in a story that is at turns tragic and comic.
Johnny Depp stars as Wilmot, delivering another in a long line of excellent performances. He brings such a nuanced performance with a full range of emotions to a character who has rather reprehensible proclivities that you can at times find yourself on the precipice of actually caring for him. Those moments don't last long as he inevitably does something to bring the reality of his nature crashing back into your perceptions.
Wilmot, a man possessing an incredible intelligence, is drawn to the darker impulses of life. Rather than resist, he seeks them out, using them as a focused outlet for his creativity.He wrote perverse prose and promiscuous plays, using these baser elements to criticize society and the monarchy. The Libertine follows the rise and fall, and rise and fall of his creativity and personal life.
Recently returned from exile in the country, Wilmot goes with his wife to London, where he quickly falls into to his old ways of drinking with his fellow writers and spending many a night at the bordellos. Soon enough, however, two things come up which have a profound affect on his future.
First, he is charged with writing a play for the King, to be put on while entertaining the visiting French royalty. The other is the entrance of an actress, Elizabeth Barry, who is booed off the stage during a performance. Wilmot sees her as an opportunity and he vows to teach her to be a better actress. She seems to be a possible path of redemption, as he recognizes something in her and is not seeking outright sexual favors, as he does of other women. This is, of course, at the expense of his wife.