One is all the time flummoxed to come across movies about real-life writers that hardly trouble to reckon with their precise writing. I can’t let you know actually that I’m a lot of knowledgeable about Robert Graves. However, the model of Graves on show in “The Laureate,” a fictionalized therapy of the bizarre residing association Graves had between 1924 and 1929, bears solely probably the most superficial resemblance to the creator I’ve encountered within the pages of his early autobiography Goodbye to All That, his Claudius novels, his poetic research The White Goddess (need to admit I nonetheless haven’t completed this one, which Graves in his intro admits is a “stiff” ebook) or his poems.
For one factor, it misses Graves’ wit, which could possibly be vicious or teasing. Typically relatively light, typically chiding. For the latter, try this stanza from his poem “The Bear and the Nude”:
The nude is daring, the nude are sly
To carry every treasonable eye.
Whereas draping by a showman’s trick
Their dishabille in rhetoric,
They grin a mock-religious grin
Of scorn at these of bare pores and skin.
Anyway. In “The Laureate,” written and directed by William Nunez, Graves continues to be very a lot a post-war poet, that could be a post-World Battle I poet and nonetheless riven by PTSD. And with good cause; as we hear Tom Hughes as Graves recall in voice-over, he was wounded and left for lifeless within the Somme, one of many bloodiest battlefields of the conflict. Haunted by nightmares, jumpy at ringing telephones, the completely humorless Graves right here is critically unproductive in the home he shares along with his spouse Nancy (Laura Haddock) and their younger daughter Catherine. This home, in Islip, nicely exterior London, is named “World’s Finish.”
For the sake of narrative coherence, maybe, the film hedges with respect to actuality. Graves on this interval was in truth extraordinarily productive, with a number of poetry collections and significant research underneath his belt; and he and Nancy had not one however 4 kids. Nunez needs us to imagine it’s a block that compels Graves to contact a New York-based poet named Laura Driving, after studying her work.
Driving hops over to England and shortly an initially platonic menage-a-trois comes into being. As performed by Dianna Agron, Driving is aggressively coquettish. She resembles what sensible aleck guys years later got here to name (erroneously and condescendingly) a “lipstick feminist.” She gushes to Nancy and Robert that she simply adores “Byron, Keats, and Shelley—Mary Shelley, that’s!” Nunez thinks, I suppose, that that is an appropriately daring factor for Driving to say. However, in truth, it’s sort of dippy, making a class error that Driving, no matter her different faults, merely was not liable to as a literary critic.
Within the narration that opens the film, Haddock’s Nancy speaks of inviting a snake into the backyard. And boy, does Agron’s Driving slither. In a celebration scene, she flounces about in a negligee like a flapper out of Evelyn Waugh. She seduces Nancy after which Robert (with whom she has a much less simple time), then pounces on younger poet Geoffrey Phibbs (Fra Fee, right here fiercely competing with Hughes for Greatest Loopy British Poet Hair). She simply can’t get sufficient. Not simply of lovin’, however of hazard. At one level she goads the Graves’ daughter into practically strolling out of a window. All of the whereas wanting more than happy with herself.
Nunez is hardly the primary male to take a misogynist view of Laura Driving. She might, as her life vividly demonstrates, be extraordinarily melodramatic, to say the least. And if she’s not learned as extensively right now as Graves is, there are causes that aren’t simply attributable to her later writing being extremely theoretical. But it surely’s slightly stunning, nowadays, to see such a conception get such an intensive exercise in a not-cheap interval film. And for Agron to seemingly purchase into that conception so entire-heartedly. (Though given how idiosyncratic the thought processes of particular person performers will be, who is aware of what she thought she was doing.) One factor is for certain: for all of the pressure the film exerts, it by no means comes near touching the hem of the writers it purports to depict. And it leaves the paranormal and erotic dimensions of their lives and works far exterior of its belabored imaginative and prescient.