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Review of Edward II (Edward the Second or Edward 2)

This film is an adaptation of the play of the same name written by Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593). While highly cinematic in some ways, it remains very much a stage production. The director (Derek Jarman) plays with costumes of various periods ranging from pre Elizabethan to contemporary. The set design is entirely theatrical and sparse.

While the play recognizes Edward’s homosexuality, the source of his inevitable downfall is his lackluster attention to state affairs. Jarman’s film brings the king’s sexual orientation to the forefront, and, in so doing, alters the thematic meaning of Edward’s inevitable tragic end. The style will be familiar to viewer’s who have seen Jarman’s Caravaggio or are familiar with his other work in various artistic forms.

For anyone unfamiliar with Marlowe, I shall remind you that he was a contemporary of Shakespeare, so the language will seem familiar to you in that context, although it is not as masterfully poetic as Shakespeare’s.  Jarman leaves the dialogue untouched, but he adds the language of the image to bring additional, if sometimes distorted, meaning.  In one early, striking example, we see the king’s exiled lover (Gaveston, portrayed by Andrew Tiernan) sitting on a bed in a dialogue with a friend as two naked sailors have sex behind them.

The film also explores a theme of narcissism absent in the original.  We see it in two recurring ways.  The king (played by Andrew Tiernan) gazes into a reflecting pool of water, directly reminiscent of Narcissus.  Furthermore, there is a striking physical resemblance between the king and Gaveston.

This ninety minute film is worth the time, but I can not in good conscience give it a higher rating than the three stars I have awarded.  Too often it seems a self-conscious experiment by the director and a forced endorsement of the gay rights struggle.  I love experimentation, and I applaud gay rights, but I have seen both achieved with more aplomb.

Edward II dvd

Genre: Gay themed drama (based on play)

Director: Derek Jarman

Language: English

Availability: DVD and streaming video

99Gay-Men.us Rating: ***

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