Sunday, 14 September 2014

Coming Soon to a Cinema Near You...

You know how it is - you're minding your own business on a Friday afternoon, posting a picture of a wombat, making plans for the weekend, and then this happens...

Yes, finally a release date, a poster and a trailer for the much-anticipated, long-awaited film about Effie Gray and her ill-fated relationship with John Ruskin. Having waited what seems like forever for the film to be released, suffering many delays and deferrals and watching as Emma Thompson, writer and star, fought valiantly through the courts, finally it will be here in October.  So why aren't I delighted?

Effie Gray Thomas Richmond
For starters, of course I am looking forward to seeing the film.  It's about the Pre-Raphaelites, for goodness sake, and so it would be churlish and counterproductive of me to not want to see a film about the thing I love.  It is also jam-packed with splendid acting talent and comes to us from the hands of Emma Thompson who is marvellous in everything she does.  I'm sure I will enjoy it because on that score I enjoyed Desperate Romantics.  Nice costumes, everyone acting their socks off, all splendid.  I'm also sure the story will be gripping.  Mind you, that might be the problem...

Dakota Fanning as Effie, and I want her gloves.

Sometimes the problem with a really good story is that it tells you more about the audience than the people involved in the story.  What we know for sure, for absolute certain, is that John Ruskin married Euphemia Gray and then five years later their marriage was annulled on the grounds of non-consummation.  They both agree (separately) that the reason that the relationship was not consummated was because Ruskin found her 'person' disgusting.  Nothing to do with public hair, menstruation, little girls, little boys, big boys or anything.  Therefore I trust that Emma Thompson has not got a scene in the film where Effie disrobes on her wedding night only for Ruskin to start screaming 'LADY PARTS! LADY PARTS! THE HORROR!' (much in the same way that I trusted that Fanny Cornforth wouldn't be cracking walnuts with her teeth in Desperate Romantics)...

Dakota Fanning and Greg Wise as Mr and Mrs Ruskin
Another universally acknowledged 'fact' is that she was around 9 years old and he was 107.  Well, again, does make a lot of sense because he liked little girls didn't he?  And all Victorian men preferred infant wives who were merely decorative or playthings for their disgusting lusts etc etc.  Actually at the time of the marriage Effie was 20 (or nearly so) and Ruskin was nine years older.  Greg Wise, a marvellous, talented actor, is around twenty years older than the part he is playing.  He is basically playing the older, more familiar Ruskin: beardy old Victorian who looks grumpy all the time.  Even lovely Tom Hollander was over 40 when he played Ruskin in Desperate Romantics.  Why are we unable to see a younger actor take the role?  Would it make it too complicated for audiences to see, for example, Rupert Friend, rather handsome and age-appropriate as Ruskin?  It certainly isn't as punchy a story - two adults marry without knowing each other properly and find out they drastically don't get along.  The husband refuses to have sex with a woman who wasn't what he believed she was.  Woman is left alone with nothing to do trapped in unhappy marriage.  They get marriage annulled.  I'm not sure I'd go and see a film about that.  However, is it okay to always assume the woman is always the victim?  Does there need to be a clear-cut 'victim' and 'culprit' in every situation?

The Victorians, much like us, love to apportion blame and back in the good old days all the blame would obviously be heaped on the woman.  That is rubbish for all involved and so I don't blame Team Effie to want some payback, after all in order to get the marriage annulled she had to go through some god-awful tests and risk utter ruin for something that wasn't her fault really.  But then I'm not convinced it was Ruskin's fault either.  However, for ever more it has become his fault, eternally the fault of the old, weird, gay pedophile who could not bare his wife's pubic hair.  That is some hatchet job.

Tom Sturridge as Millais
Also, what seemed to enrage others on Friday (I was too busy wailing over the age of Ruskin) was that Millais looks exactly like an identi-kit Rossetti, all Byronic and moody.  On a side note, the actor Tom Sturridge is exactly the right age to play Ruskin.  Oh, the irony!

Look, you don't need me to tell you to go and see it, it will be wonderful entertainment and no doubt a feast for the eyes.  I'd love to see more Pre-Raphaelite films, so let's make this one a success as I'm sure it will be.  However, you are all smart people who read and question accepted biography, don't forget to remind people that the film is just entertainment.  After all, the last time I saw Fanny Cornforth on screen, she was a nut spitting, illiterate cockney prostitute...

Oh yes, Ophelia on the poster?  Really?

Effie Gray is out in the UK in October and you can have a look at the trailer here.


  1. I get a bit annoyed by all the blaming, too. Some say Effie was manipulative, and wanted a rich husband, others Ruskin was a pedophile or whatever, why do people have to make it seedy! I thought (especially for such a sex filled show) that Desperate Romantics actually dealt with it very sensitively by having Ruskin make a lovely little speech about loving the company of young people but basically being A-sexual, having no sexual desire to actually bed her. It makes sense, after all, it's not like A-sexuality has never existed in the past although it must have been way more difficult back then.

    Dakota Fanning still looks like a little girl and Greg Wise is aging now, so I am not too fond of the pairing. I know Greg got cast because he is Emma's husband, but they really do make the match look a little seedy. And Millais looking like a waaaay less attractive copy of Aiden Turner? What is with that! Sigh!

    I am going to watch it because of the Pre-Raphaelites and costumes, but I am sure I will have many many more gripes than wiht Desperate Romantics or Dante's Inferno!

  2. Laura beat me to my observation -- for all its faults (and much as I adore it, they are many), it was Desperate Romantics that gave me the asexual Ruskin I've been waiting for someone else to see. And, of all people, it was their even-more-randy-and-thoughtless-than-reality Rossetti who actually grasped what he was saying! (And warned him that society was never going to see it that way, which was borne out by by audience reaction -- Laura is the first other viewer I've seen comment upon it, while most seem to have come away with the standard borderline-pedophile reading.)

    I'm no fan of Ruskin as a human being for a slew of reasons not directly due to the marriage fiasco (though of course they're inextricably tied to it), mostly that I do not suffer snobs gladly and he was a snob down to the atomic level. But there's still no need for him to be The Villain of the Piece.

  3. Thank you, Ladies. Tom Hollander is absolutely a fine Ruskin, such a massive intellect with the social skills of a child. There are obviously many reasons I have issues with him (come on, he was an establishment Victorian man in so many ways) but his treatment in regards of his marriage makes me uncomfortable and insulting to chaps in general. A man who cannot bring himself to have sex with a woman he doesn't love is described as crazy and unnatural. Well, isn't that nice...?

  4. Apart from the thumping great scandal around his marriage to Effie is there anything specific that actually sticks to Ruskin? History really hasn't been very kind to him over his marriage, and I agree that lovely as Greg Wise is to look upon he's not age appropriate for the part ( but then neither was Emma Thompson when she played Eleanor in Sense and Sensibility).

  5. There is also the matter of Rose La Touche. When Ruskin was older and suffering from mental illness he sought out the company of a young girl, Rose La Touche. He went as far as proposing marriage to her. Effie sent a letter to Rose's mother and that put an end to all of that. His relationship with Rose, while not at all unusual in that time, is seen as further 'proof' that he was a pedophile and it was Effie's lady-garden that he objected to. What a pickle...

  6. I agree with all the comments about Ruskin. For all his faults, both he and Effie made an unfortunate choice in who they chose to marry. Neither should be villainized because of it. That said, Effie did drag his reputation through the mud after their annulment and Ruskin actually refrained from publicly commenting about her at all. I agree he was probably asexual in a time when it was considered "unnatural", and another reason why he was probably so disturbed by his hero Turner's more lurid drawings. (That's another movie coming up, with a more age-appropriate Ruskin.)
    And yes, as historically inaccurate as Desperate Romantics was, I did enjoy it for what it was, and I will probably (begrudgingly) enjoy this. Even with Rossellais. (grumble)

  7. I will probably go and see this but will almost certainly get thrown out of the cinema for complaining loudly about all the inaccuracies and they are legion. I used to think Effie was hard done by but the latest dissection of the Ruskin marriage convinced me that they both came into their marriage with mistaken assumptions and they jogged along more or less happily until Millais came on the scene. Then Effie wanted out...

  8. I have admired Emma Thompson's work, Sense & Sensibility especially, so I expected her to do her research but after seeing the Millais character I became concerned. (Perhaps he decided to go 'wild' in the Scottish countryside). Besides the problems with the Ruskin character, and more trivially, I think there are problems with the costumes. The poster is wrong as the Order of Release was Effie's portrait of that year and she might not have been pleased to be compared to Ophelia. I still hope that The Love School will be available one day. Until then, will I see Effie Gray? You bet!

  9. Thank you for all your comments. Yes Elizabeth, you've hit the nail on the head of our dilemma - problems, problems, but will we see it? Of course. Now, if we could just all arrange to see it together...

  10. Interesting discussion. You might find it interesting to take a look at John Harvey's recent novel 'The Subject of a Portrait', which presents another, nuanced (fictional) account of the Ruskin/Effie/Millais triangle; my review favours the asexual interpretation; Harvey himself anticipates the film when it was about to come out, and there's another piece taking a look at his psychopathology - here: I've not seen the film yet myself; reviews are a little mixed. But I enjoyed the novel.

  11. I shall have to check it out, thanks for the tip!


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