Edward II Movie Review

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British director Derek Jarman raged against the dying of the light. In the years just before before he died of AIDS in 1994 at the age of 52, he did some of his most inventive and daring work. None of his final movies is more fascinating than Edward II, his adaptation of Christopher Marlowe's 16th-century play about the royal intrigue surrounding one of England's legendarily bad monarchs.

Jarman keeps the language but takes the story out of its 14th-century timeframe, fills it with anachronisms, presents it with minimal sets against a black background, and turns it into a furious rant against the homophobia of the Thatcher-era England of the '80s and early '90s. Though Marlowe wrote a gay subtext into his play, Jarman moves it up front: Edward is gay, he gives too much power to his gay lover, and they both have to be destroyed before things get out of hand.

The love between Edward (Steven Waddington) and Piers Gaveston (Andrew Tiernan) is fiery and passionate. The two engage in sexy makeout sessions surround by other gay guys getting it on, too. Edward is quite distracted from affairs of state, much to the distress and anger of the court (somber men in business suits) and his ignored queen Isabella (Tilda Swinton). There are plans to be made, wars to be fought, but Edward is always off taking another tumble with Gaveston. The more the two of them cavort with their gay gang of buddies, the more everyone else in the royal household agrees that something has to be done.

As the pressure mounts on Edward and Gaveston and Isabella engineers their separation, gay rights protestors appear outside the castle and make a racket (Jarman recruited real protestors from OutRage, a British group similar to America's Act Up.) It's jarring yet compelling to see such images while listening to Shakespearian style language. Jarman is sending his struggle back through time.

When Gaveston is finally banished, Jarman has an even cooler idea: to bring in Annie Lennox to sing "Every Time We Say Goodbye" as Edward and Gaveston dance one last time. It's an electrifying moment.

The cast is uniformly superb, with the steely Swindon, a Jarman favorite, standing out as the rabid Isabella, wandering through the castle in outrageously lavish gowns. Even though Edward was a crummy king, it's hard not to feel absolutely livid when he's dragged off to meet his end, an ugly death that involves a red hot poker. That's an image Jarman wants you to remember, and he succeeds. It's impossible to forget.

I rule. I Jazzercise.

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Edward II Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: R, 1991

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