With so many period pieces in the world of film, one crucial aspect of the Romantic era has never been thoroughly explored. And that is the exploits of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth, the two poets who started that era going in 18th century England. Director Julien Temple had access to film in the Lake region of England to do the location shooting. And he was also lucky enough to have actors such as Linus Roche and John Hannah in the lead roles along with Samantha Morton and Emily Woof for a film what would be pressed into delving deep into the waters of one of the most eccentrically creative periods in the history of English poetry.
The film begins with Coleridge, a middle aged man broken from opium addiction being asked to attend a gala thrown by Lord Byron to introduce the new poet laureate. Byron admires Coleridge and wishes for the poet to reveal the lost portion of his famed Kubla Khan. In a drug addled stupor, a terrified Coleridge runs across his old partner Wordsworth and finds himself reliving his time as an anti slavery abolitionist in France where he first encountered poet Robert Southey and Wordsworth himself. He also recalls how their first collaborative collaboration, a series of political essays were censored and how he and Wordsworth decided to collaborate on a collected works composed of poetry that plainly spoke directly to the soul.
While writing this set called Lyrical Ballads, Coleridge becomes immersed in the opium habit after first using Laudanum for a toothache. As his habit grows worse and worse he,Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy indulge in experiences with hallucinogens they along with the wife’s of Coleridge and Wordsworth become involved in a pecuiliar series of romantic triangles and Wordsworth’s growing envy over Coleridge’s rich poetic visions. As Dorothy becomes more infatuated with Coleridge, he becomes more and more of a parasitic and intrusive element on their lives due to his opium poisoning and eventually Coleridge is forced into leaving the lake region when his relationship with Wordsworth and his growing family finally soured.
Upon meeting Wordsworth later,the poet explains to Coleridge the fate that befell his sister Dorothy because she followed Coleridge’s addiction in hope of poetic inspiration. In the end he learned Wordsworth had been collaborating all along with the man who censored his original political publication in order to forward his own needs. In the end Wordsworth is shocked to learn that Robert Southey, not himself is to be the new poet laureate. Wordsworth’s deception is revealed by Coleridge before Byron and his crowd at which time Dorothy reveals the unheard portions of Kubla Khan to the entranced audience.
Linus Roche’s dreamy and righteous interpretation of Coleridge and John Hannah’s conniving and almost villianous take on Wordsworth are indicative of Temple’s directorial approach. A beautifully shot film with some beautiful scenery of the lake region where these poets lived and created, there is a quality in this somewhat similar to Milos Foreman’s classic 1985 film Amadeus. Both of these films took a degree of factual license in terms of biographical detail in order to tell a certain kind of story. Still there are many accurate character traits in this film projected and in terms of it’s bright visualizations and either sunny or darkly flamboyant atmosphere this is a poetic and beautiful cinematic masterpiece.