Pandaemonium

It's hard to say exactly how much of it is true, but director Julien Temple's fanciful take of the relationship between those two titans of English Romantic poetry, William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, makes for good, literate fun. The film opens in London, 1816, where England's intelligentsia has gathered for the announcement of the nation's...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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It's hard to say exactly how much of it is true, but director Julien Temple's fanciful take of the relationship between those two titans of English Romantic poetry, William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, makes for good, literate fun. The film opens in London, 1816, where England's intelligentsia has gathered for the announcement of the nation's new poet laureate. Everyone assembled in London's Guildhall is certain it's to be William Wordsworth (John Hannah), and in honor of the occasion, the poet's old friend and one-time collaborator Samuel Taylor Coleridge (Linus Roache) has emerged from seclusion to offer his congratulations. Coleridge, however, can barely stand; he's been in the grips of a serious opium addiction for years and claims the drug has "cut him loose from time." A shaky Coleridge then steps through the doorway of the Guildhall and back to the late l8th century, when, as a young firebrand proselytizing against slavery and the war with France, he first meets Wordsworth on the London docks. Inspired by the French Revolution, Coleridge, his wife Sara (Samantha Morton) and fellow poets Robert Southey (Samuel West) and John Thelwall (Andy Serkis) plan on leaving bourgeois society far behind and retiring to a communal farm, but only Wordsworth takes Coleridge at his word. Soon after Coleridge and Sara move to the Somerset hills, Wordsworth arrives with his formidable sister Dorothy (Emily Woof) in tow. Together, with much guidance from Dorothy, the two poets envision an "epic of nature written in the language of liberty," but the collaboration isn't an easy one. As Wordsworth sinks into a depression aggravated by writer's block and professional jealousy, Coleridge falls in love with his muse, Dorothy. He begins to write extraordinary, visionary verse, but grows increasingly dependent on opium as a creative catalyst. As far as biography goes, the film shouldn't be counted on to get its facts straight (if Wordsworth were alive today, he might want to sue for libel), but as a visual counterpart to some of the most sublime verse ever written, it's often thrilling. Temple comes into his own when his own visual flights of fancy take precedence as when, deep in an opium dream, Coleridge envisions himself as an ancient mariner tossed by an oily sea, or as an underground traveler who happens upon the stately pleasure dome of Kubla Khan. Temple lends the film a contemporary resonance by adding a few striking anachronistic touches — visions of modern environmental catastrophes are woven into Coleridge's opium-induced nightmares — and the film's climactic reading of Kubla Khan is sure to raise a goosebump or two.

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  • Released: 2000
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Review: It's hard to say exactly how much of it is true, but director Julien Temple's fanciful take of the relationship between those two titans of English Romantic poetry, William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, makes for good, literate fun. The film open… (more)

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