A visually arresting and emotional drama resonating with contemporary themes of creativity, addiction and betrayal, Julien Temple’s Pandaemonium examines the intense and volatile relationship between two of history’s most revolutionary literary figuresoSamuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth. Set against the political and philosophical convulsions of the late 18th and early 19th centuriesothe French Revolution, industrialisation and the birth of modern scienceoColeridge and Wordsworth’s appetite for experimentation in poetry rejected the postcard prettiness of established techniques in favour of an intensely personal response to nature.
At a grand reception at London’s Guild Hall, a crowd gathers for the appointment of a new Poet Laureate. Amid the chatter, Byron and Southey ridicule the ‘exquisitely dull’ poetry of Wordsworth (John Hannah), who is sure to be given English poetry’s greatest honour. Meanwhile, Coleridge (Linus Roache), incapacitated by his opium addiction, makes an ungraceful and noisy entrance. An embarrassed Wordsworth leads his pitiable friend to an adjoining room, where Coleridge’s imaginative journey begins. The impoverished poet is transported back in time to a political rally and a secret printing press where he and his revolutionary friends produce and distribute an underground newspaper. Coleridge suggests that the group of poets create a rural Utopia for a new kind of poetry that will liberate the minds of the people. The arrival of Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy (Emily Woof) at Coleridge’s small cottage in Somerset heralds the beginning of an inspiring poetic collaboration that ends in deceit and betrayal.
Director Temple’s highly visual approach accentuates the spirit rather than the letter of the time. His chiaroscuro tones, subjective camera angles and startling time ellipses dramatically punctuate Coleridge’s psychological state as his world begins to fragment around him. A powerful look at the lives and human frailties of two of the English language’s greatest poets, Pandaemonium is one of those rare films that manages to capture the deeper passions that drive great writers and intellects. U.K., 2000. Colour. Dolby digital stereo. 120 mins.