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Image Entertainment presents
"Curse me, depose me. Do the worst you can."
DVD ReviewKing Edward II is generally considered to be one of the most ineffectual and unpopular kings ever to grace the throne of England. That reputation in no small part derives from the 16th-century history play written by Christopher Marlowe, which maligns the king and his love for Piers Gaveston. This modern-dress adaptation by innovative director Derek Jarman rehabilitates Edward to some extent, shifting the cloak of villainy elsewhere.
After the death of his father, Edward I, a highly popular conqueror and strong leader, Edward II (Steven Waddington) summons his lover Piers Gaveston (Andrew Tiernan) back from exile to England. Showering gifts, titles, and favors upon Gaveston, Edward earns the outrage of the peerage, clergy, and military, the latter led by Mortimer (Nigel Terry). Queen Isabelle (Tilda Swinton), rebuffed by Edward, engineers the return of Gaveston so that he may be murdered more easily. Civil war ensues, with King Edward vacillating between bloody revenge and weepy melancholy.
Jarman was not one to stand on niceties, and this adaptation pulls few punches. The violence is often as brutal as one is likely to see short of Japanese pornography; particularly notable are the torture of the Bishop of Winchester (Dudley Sutton) for his part in exiling Gaveston, and Mortimer strangling Spencer (John Lynch) with his bare hands. Sexuality also is in the forefront, with many scenes including men having sex in the background.
Sexuality is Jarman's main concern here, seeing Edward's torment as literal gay-bashing by the Establishment and the bourgeoisie; Edward becomes a martyr to gay rights at the hands of the church and the army. There are a few issues with this, since Marlowe's text makes much of Gaveston's low birth and the issues seem to be more of class than sexuality. Furthermore, Mortimer, ringleader of the rebellious barons and a military man, is himself homosexual as presented by Jarman (though he simply may be considering Mortimer a hypocritical closet queen). But certainly Marlowe's subtext has been read for many years to be a complaint about Edward's sexual preferences, and thus Jarman's comments, inconsistent as they may be, have a certain validity when juxtaposed against the text.
Waddington is acceptable as Edward, though he seems so inoffensive that one wonders why he excites such resentment, or inspires the initial love from the queen that turns to hatred. Tiernan makes for a gleefully wicked Gaveston, who enjoys all the perks and even more his opportunities for revenge. The most depth comes with Swinton's portrayal of Queen Isabelle, with complicated feelings and difficult (if not opaque) motives that may not be clear to her herself. Jody Graber makes a memorable impression as Prince Edward, the future Edward III, becoming deeply warped by the violent depravities going on around him. The concluding sequence holds a devastating bit of irony that gives at least some comfort too late to those sympathetic to Edward. Annie Lennox contributes an onscreen performance of Cole Porter's Every Time We Say Goodbye midway through, which while not exactly in Marlowe's original, fits the presentation rather well.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: The widescreen anamorphic image looks quite fine. This is a very dark film, often beautifully lit, and this comes across very well, as does the rough texture on the walls that echoes the decay of the royal line. Color is vivid, as is fine detail. The only damage is mild speckling that's generally easy to disregard.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: Both 5.1 and 2.0 Dolby Surround tracks are present. The 5.1 is preferable, with a broader soundstage and better presence. During the Stonewall riots sequences as gay rights protesters are mowed down by police, there's excellent immediacy that brings the riots into your living room.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 11 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Layers Switch: 01h:10m:17s
Extras Review: In addition to a full-screen trailer, the disc provides a 24m:44s presentation by star Tilda Swinton to the memory of Jarman, read at the 2002 Edinburgh Film Festival. It's an intensely personal address that is quite far ranging, with heavy criticism of the British film industry (though a surprising fondness and respect for Powell and Pressburger). She reads a bit too fast and the audio is marginal, but it's a moving tribute to the artist. She doesn't, however, make specific reference to this film.
Extras Grade: C
Final CommentsAn intriguing adaptation of Marlowe, heavy on the sex and violence, with a very nice transfer.
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