Saturday, November 21, 2009

Marquise Elle Reviews "A Harlot's Progress"

What a naughty marquise I've been this past month! How naughty, you ask? Why, terribly so- I've neglected to write to you! (Whatever did you think I meant?)

I just viewed the 2006 film "A Harlot's Progress," starring Toby Jones as William Hogarth. As you may have guessed, the film follows Hogarth's famous series of engravings with the same title. If you are unfamiliar with the work, do look it up; it is an invaluable snapshot of 1730s London, at once charming and repugnant. Wikipedia has a lovely write-up about it with detailed descriptions of each scene:

Go on, take a look. I'll wait.


Wonderful, wasn't it? I highly recommend his other pieces as well ("A Rake's Progress," which I mentioned in a past post, and "Marriage a la Mode" are wonderful).

Now, back to the business at hand. The film implies that the harlot in question was indeed a real person, and that Hogarth shared an intimate relationship with her (well, if one instance of rather awkward sex counts as intimate- but I suppose what I'm getting at is more of an emotional intimacy). It follows the events of Hogarth's series, interwoven with Hogarth's personal life and his relationship with Mary the "harlot." We even get a few glimpses of Henry Fielding, a good friend and admirer of Hogarth's, mostly being a party animal (though what more could you expect from the author of Tom Jones?).

All in all, I thought the film was splendid. The filming reminded me of "Barry Lyndon"- which I simply must review in full at some point- in that it had the same flat, painting-like character where everything is in sharp focus, making it difficult to determine depth. The engravings are incorporated seamlessly into the film, as well as reproductions of the paintings (I assume they are reproductions, as the originals were sadly lost in a fire in 1755). The casting was excellent, as if the characters had stepped out of the engravings and into the film. There were also elements in the production which reminded me of "From Hell" and "Sweeny Todd," in the rapid camera work and choice of ambient music, that gave the London of the past a dingy, squalid, claustrophobic feel. The story itself was captivating and very believable. I also appreciated the captions at the bottom of the screen, inserted here and there with background information of all sorts, giving an even greater impression of the Zeitgeist of the time and place.

And did I mention the costumes? Invariably when I watch a period film, particularly one set in the 18th century, I am very attentive to the costume choices, and very vocal about any mistakes I notice. ("Are those buttons running down the front of his shirt?" "Why aren't these women wearing caps?" "Is that a back-laced dress on a grown woman?" "SHOWER CAP!") But while watching this film, all I could do was stare in awe of the amazingly accurate costume design. It even gave me a few ideas for my own sewing! The opulent garments of the wealthy were stunning, yet at the same time the costumes of the poor were incredibly convincing- dirty, tattered, worn. Even the choices for different age groups were spot-on: older men wore the larger coats and ponderous wigs that were more fashionable in their youth, while Hogarth and pals wore more "modern" styles. Of course, much of this was probably gleaned from the engravings themselves, but it was wonderful to see the incredible attention to detail. Of course this attention was not only seen in the costumes- the entire film was Hogarth's work come to life.

I don't generally gush about period films- I tend to be overly critical of them if anything- but I was more than impressed with this film. I highly recommend it, Netflix has it, go forth and see it for yourself!

1 comment:

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