Gothic sees five famous friends coming together to bring their deepest fears to life. The experience then leads to the creation of more than one great literary work. On the guest list are Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley, Claire Clairmont (Mary Shelley’s stepsister), and Dr. John William Polidori.
To put it bluntly: Gothic is unnecessarily weird. The concept of a (highly) fictionalized retelling of the meeting of several historical figures is a unique and interesting one. But, in the hands of the late Ken Russell, it gets a little too weird. Gothic is part period piece and part horror film but it doesn’t excel in either endeavor.
The bulk of the film comes across as a disjointed fever dream. And while that may be appealing to some, it’s not my cup of tea. In fact, I found it to be downright painful to watch for long stretches of time. The first sixty minutes are particularly brutal. Not a lot happens before the one hour mark. And most of what does transpire during that time is rather bizarre.
As I mentioned before, the core characters are based on noteworthy historical figures. However, in this film, most of the cast are portrayed as manic caricatures that are nearly impossible to relate to. In the hands of a less eccentric director, the idea may have been realized with a more palatable outcome.
Most of the performances are hammy. Julian Sands (Warlock) really chews up the scenery in his turn as Shelley and Timothy Spall isn’t much better as Dr. John William Polidori. Gabrielle Byrne is equally bizarre in his portrayal of Lord Byron. Not only is Byron depicted as very peculiar, he’s also utterly reprehensible, which makes it all the more difficult to form any meaningful attachment to him. Byron was known to be an eccentric womanizer and also reportedly had relations with his half sister. So, some of the characterizations are accurate, but making him (or any of the characters) more approachable would have gone a long way.
The late Natasha Richardson’s Mary Shelley is perhaps the least bizarre and most relatable of the bunch. But Richardson’s portrayal of Mary Shelley really isn’t strong enough to carry the film.
Making matters worse, Gothic is bogged down by pacing issues. Things are very slow to start. So, by the time things begin to get a little more interesting, most viewers will already be checked out.
The film’s saving grace is that Thomas ‘She Blinded Me With Science” Dolby did the soundtrack. It is fittingly bizarre and perhaps better than the film itself.
Gothic suffers from an identity crisis. It feels as if Ken Russell couldn’t make up his mind if he wanted to make a period drama or a horror film. Unfortunately, it isn’t particularly successful on either count. Gothic is now available on limited edition Blu-ray. Special features include a commentary track, interviews, featurettes, and more.
WICKED RATING: 4/10
Director(s): Ken Russell
Writer(s): Stephen Volk
Stars: Gabriel Byrne, Natasha Richardson, Julian Sands, Myriam Cyr, and Timothy Spall
Release Date: January 30 (Blu-Ray)
Studio/ Production Co: Vestron, LionsGate