Byron (2003)

 

 

 

Director:    Julian Farino. 

Starring:     Jonny Lee Miller (Lord Byron),  Philip Glenister (William Fletcher),  Stephen Campbell Moore (John Cam Hobhouse),  Natasha Little (Augusta Leigh),  Vanessa Redgrave (Lady Melbourne),   Julie Cox (Annabella Milbanke),  Camilla Power (Lady Caroline Lamb),  Oliver Dimsdale (Percy Bysshe Shelley),  Sally Hawkins (Mary Shelley),  Michael Elwyn (John Murray),  Penny   Downie (Lady Judith Milbanke),  David Ryall (Sir Ralph Milbanke),  Mali Harries (Ann Rood),  Branka Katic (Teresa Guiccioli). 

the famous English poet who led a scandalous existence

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

 

Episode One.  The Summer of a Dormouse. 

Some men burn a manuscript by Byron for the sake of the man and his family. 

Greece 1811.  Byron and others are on a little expedition.  Byron kisses a young nan.  He comes across  men transporting something in a bag to be thrown into the sea.  Byron stops the men and wants to know what's in the bag.  He tells the men to open the bag.  The twos sides of men point their weapons at each other.  Byron gets out two pistols and points them at the man in charge.  He tells him to open it.  He does and out pops a pretty woman who immediately says:  "Byron!" 

A sultan says Byron hindered his officer of the guard from doing his duty.  If Lord Byron had been a lesser man, he would be dead.  The man asks Byron if he has enjoyed his stay in Turkey.  Byron says he thought he was in Greece.  The fellow replies:  "To us the whole empire is Turkey and has been for 300 years."  Byron explains that he has come to ask for the freedom of a woman.  The Turk responds:  "Women are worthless."  Byron says he is prepared to pay for her freedom. 

Byron tells his friend Hobby (short for John Cam Hobhouse) that the last of the money is gone and it is time to go home.  They return to England.  Byron tries to get a poem published but the editor says that in the two years Byron has been gone, the tastes of the town have changed.   

Byron's aide William Fletcher yawns and Byron asks why.  Because it 3 o'clock in the morning.  He asks Fletcher to get Susan up to make him some eggs.  He does so.  Byron has two guests and with them he talks about his wonderful two years of bliss and debauchery while traveling in Greece and Albania. 

London 1812.  Byron tells Hobhouse about his newest publication, The Child Harold:  "I awoke one morning to find myself famous."  At a party Lord Byron and Captain Hobhouse are announced.  Everyone suddenly becomes quiet.  The women flock around to listen to Byron.  Lady Melbourne has Byron and Hobhouse over for dinner.  When Byron goes home he has a naked woman waiting for him. 

Byron talks with Annabella Milbanke at a dance.  She is a bit too frank with him, which he doesn't like.  She is the niece of Lady Melbourne, who says that Annabella is looking for a husband.  Lady Melbourne refers to her as almost perfect and Byron says he would prefer her more if she was less perfect.  The next woman he meets is Lady Melbourne's daughter-in-law Lady Caroline.  She had been following Byron, but now she just turns and runs.  This upsets Byron because he interprets it as a snub. 

The next day he sees Caroline and gives her a rose in March.  He asks her why she ran away and she says that his whispering with her cousin Annabella made her jealous.  She shocks Byron by asking:  "Are we to be lovers?"  She repeats the question very loudly, so that the other women in the room all turn to look at them.  Byron asks:  "Are you mad?"  and she says:  "I don't know."   Byron meets some other authors and they give him a lot of respect, which Byron obviously likes.  He gets into a coach and to his surprise Caroline is there.  She says she wants him, he says to seduce him and it's on. 

In the morning leaving Caroline's mansion, he bumps into Annabella, who has come to discuss some mathematical problems with her cousin.  She is shocked when she finds her cousin lying naked on her bed surrounded by signs of debauchery.

Byron's sister Augusta comes to visit.  Hobhouse says to Byron that hears he is having an affair with Lady Caroline.  Byron goes to a dance and sees Caroline laughing and carrying on while dancing.  He sits down and starts to read a book.  Caroline stops everything to say:  "Lord Byron doesn't care to waltz."  Byron tells Hobhouse that his caring for Caroline went away after a few days.  Now he can't get rid of her.  Fletcher comes in to say that a page says a letter for Byron has to be delivered personally.  The page turns out to be Caroline and she rushes over to Byron and jumps on him, saying they can elope tonight.  When he rejects her, she becomes hysterical, lying on her stomach and kicking the floor repeatedly with her shoes.  Hobhouse has to put her out. 

Lady Melbourne tells Byron that William has taken Caroline to Ireland.  Caroline says she will kill herself, or Byron or both.  Byron tells Lady Melbourne that he is quite done with falling in love.  He gets out of town, staying with his sister.  He has brought tons of books with him.  Augusta asks what happened to him in London and he says:  "I was made a fool of."  Byron has Fletcher pack up and off they go back to London.  The situation got a bit too intimate with his sister for they had sex. 

At a costume party Byron runs into Annabella again.  He comments about life that he spend three hours getting dressed.  "Subtracting the buttoning and unbuttoning, sleeping and eating and swilling and what is left of real existence?  The summer of the dormouse."  They seem to have opposite views of life.  She wants to help people and do God's work and Byron seeks "sensation"

Byron acts like a man in love, distracted from the everyday duties of life.  His sister visits him again.  They have sex again.  At breakfast Augusta tells her brother that she will be having another child.  She says that Byron should marry.  They go over a list of names of available women.  Augusta tells him that the only woman left for him is Annabella.  Byron is shocked.  He writes a letter to Annabella asking if there is any possibility of marriage to her.  Annabella fills out a for-and-against form concerning marriage to Lord Byron.  She writes back and says yes. 

Annabella discusses Lord Byron with her parents.  She is absolutely fascinated by his contradictions.  She comments that he has described himself as half dust and half deity. 

At a party Byron meets the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.  At the same party Lady Melbourne figures out the secret of who Byron is in love with:  his half-sister August Leigh.  He says he wanted to travel abroad with Augusta but she is more sensible than he.  Then he shocks Lady Melbourne by saying that he will marry her niece Annabella.  Then he can call Lady Melbourne his aunt. 

Byron goes to visit his sister.  To do this means he will be late arriving at Annabella's house.  Byron is surprised to find her with her husband, Colonel Leigh.  He tells the husband that he is on his way to be married.  Alone with Augusta he says that to marry Annabella is the purest folly.  He and Augusta start kissing again.  They celebrate Christmas together.  At Annabella's place she and her parents dine alone without Lord Byron.  Annabella starts crying and has to leave the table.  As she walks on the lawn, she sees Byron's coach arriving.  Hobhouse is with him. 

Annabella is very reserved with Byron, but she gets impatient and gives him a big hug.  He is surprised and pleased by her positive reaction.  At dinner Hobhouse reveals that Byron is a great admirer of Napoleon.  Mrs. Milbanke says:  "That filthy little bandit?"  Hobhouse says he and Byron like to go to the theater and the Milbankes seem scandalized.  After dinner Hobhouse and Byron talk.  Byron says he would prefer a woman who talked more. 

The next day the couple marry in the house of the Milbankes.  Byron gives her a big kiss at the end, which almost makes Annabella swoon.  The wedding ring falls off her finger.  The couple leave.  Mr. Milbanke asks his wife what does she think and she says:  "What have we done?"  On the trip home Byron says:  "We ought never to have married."  His wife asks why and he says because he is evil and has done evil.  When they arrive home Byron completely ignores Annabella, going straight into the home asking for a brandy and soda. 

Annabella asks Byron what he means when he said he had done evil?  He just says it was a casual remark.  But she can't forget it.  Perhaps to change the subject, he bends her over a table and has sex with her from behind (off screen).  Byron catches a cold.  At night Annabella comes in to sleep with him, but Byron says he never actually sleeps in bed with a woman.  Annabella gets very insulted and turns to leave. Byron has to backtrack and let her come into bed with him.  But toward morning Byron screams:  "God, I'm in hell."

 

Episode Two:  The Eloquence of Action. 

Annabella has to eat breakfast alone.  She goes to check on Byron, but Fletcher is up there guarding his door.  Around lunchtime she can finally get in to see him.  He receives a letter from his sister, which does not please Annabella.  Walking on the beach, she asks her husband to tell her what he expects of her and she will do her best to fulfill those expectations.  Byron says he just wants a woman who laughs.  He tells her he will race her to the top of an embankment.  She is not enthused, but she does it and she does laugh.

Byron reads a little from the Bible.  His wife is pleased.  He still says, however, that he is evil and damned.  Byron says she has already seen his evil mark, but Annabella says that it's just a minor deformity. At night he drinks heavily.  He comes up the steps with two pistols ready to shoot them.  Annabella tells him to come back to bed. 

Walking on the beach again, Byron tells Bella that he could not have a better wife.  He tells Bella to tell him what she wants and he will do it for her.  So Bella says she wants to visit his sister.  Off they go.  With Augusta is the new baby Dora.  Bella says that the baby sure looks like a Byron.  Later she tells Augusta that Byron has promised to stay more at home and have more quiet nights where they will read and discuss matters.  Bryon gets a bit drunk and starts talking about women's undergarments, talk of which Bella does not approve.  Augusta says Byron married felicitously, but Byron repeats that he should have not married at all.  This upsets Bella.  She says she is tired and excuses herself. 

The hour is getting late and Bella is worried.  Byron and Augusta are getting along so well, too well she seems to be thinking.  Byron is saying that he has been playing a charade and wonders how much longer he can keep this up.  He tries to kiss Augusta but she refuses saying his wife is under her roof.  When Byron comes to bed he has anal sex with his wife, who is a bit shocked but adapts to the situation. 

Augusta and Bella knit and talk about Byron.  His sister talks about his dark moods where he can be difficult, but he is a gentle soul, she says.  At night Augusta tells Byron that they must reform now that he is married.  She says he must settle down and try to be a good husband.  Byron says he hates marriage.  Augusta adds that if he loves her, he will try to be a good husband. 

Bella and Byron leave his sister's house.  On the way back home Bella says she is ecstatic about his sister.  His sister is now a lady-in-waiting to Queen Charlotte.  Augusta comes up and visits them at Piccadilly.  Bella says that she may be expecting a child.  Byron takes a swig and says quietly:  "Oh, God!"

Bella and Byron have a get-together of their friends.  Lady Melboure tells Bella to keep an eye on Mrs. Neigh for she is very clever and very wicked.  Bella learns that Hobhouse has left the military and is now a politician.  Byron sees Shelley speaking with a fellow from Greece who is trying to drum up money for a cause. 

Byron comes and finds that the bailiffs have repossessed some of his furniture.  Now he drinks a lot for laudanum "for my nerves" he says.  Bella asks if she is not good enough for him and he replies that she is too good. 

Byron has trouble writing.  A woman named Claire Clairmont, who says she is a friend of Shelley, comes to see Byron for the purpose of sleeping with him.  Byron talks with Shelley, who reproaches Byron for not coming over to talk to him.  He says he is a revolutionist and they would tear from him everything he has.  Byron has sex with Claire while she is sitting on his writing desk.     

Bella is very pregnant.  One of the women she wants by her at childbrith  is Augusta.  She says she likes Augusta but she and Byron have some kind of shared secret or language that she is not permitted to know.  Augusta arrives.  She sees Byron who seems very paranoid.   Augusta tells Bella that Byron is acting peculiarly.  As Bella goes into labor she screams a lot and Byron goes crazing busting glasses.  Byron is very awkward with the new baby.  All he really looks at closely is her feet. 

Lady Caroline advises Bella to take the baby and go visit her family.  There she should tell her mother all the indignities she has suffered at the hands of Lord Byron.  Fletcher has to say goodbye to his new wife because she is Bella's servant.  When Bella gets home she cries at seeing her mother and father.  She tells her mother about being sodomized by Lord Byron.  The story goes around quite quickly and a very angry Hobhouse asks Byron is it true that he sodomized his own wife?  Byron's defense is everyone does it in Turkey.   But, says Hobhouse, here you can be hanged for it.  Hobhouse says that if there is a separation or divorce and a trial, then the news will certainly be known by all and will cause a terrible scandal. 

Caroline tells Bella about the incest between Byron and his sister.  Bella signs the court papers.  Byron's friends tell him to get out of the public eye -- go abroad.  Byron objects shouting:  "I have done nothing wrong!"  Byron and Augusta show up at one of the get-togethers and everyone quiets down quickly.  They soon leave the party.  In the coach a crying Augusta urges her brother to go away.  They kiss and hug each other.

Three years later.  In Venice, Italy Byron gets a letter.  And he writes a letter to his sister.  Byron has sex with a prostitute named Margarita in a gondola.  He brings her back to his place.  Waiting for him there is Shelley.  Byron asks him what he is doing in Venice?  Shelley says Miss Clairmont wants her child.  She had a child by Byron and Byron has the child with him in Venice.  Byron will not give her up to the literally poor Miss Clairmont. 

For some reason Margarita is very angry.  Shelley asks Byron what did he say to her to calm her down?  He says he didn't say anything.  Rather he showed her what he likes to call "the eloquence of action".  It was the one way he could silence Bella.  Shelly reads Byron's recent work and is very impressed.  He says Byron should not stay in isolation in Italy.  His own country needs him. 

Bella goes to see Augusta.  She says it amazes her that she dares even show her face in public.  Augusta says she never meant to hurt her. Bella says Augusta has destroyed her life.  She is stared at wherever she goes.  What she wants from Augusta is a confession.  Bella demands Augusta tell her everything.  Bella is there when Augusta reads a letter from her brother.  She asks Bella if she should reply since he seems so sad.  Bella just shakes her head no. 

Byron learns that Margarita can read, so he tells her that it is all over between the two of them.  He doesn't want a woman who reads.  She gets very upset and pulls a knife on him.  Margarita cuts his hand.  A huge fellow grabs Margarita.  Byron asks her if she will behave, she says yes, she is let go and promptly jumps off the second floor balcony into the canal water below.  Hobhouse sees Margarita jump into the canal.   He has brought legal papers to be signed by Byron. 

Hobhouse sees two beautiful Venetian prostitutes and Byron brings them home.  They both have sex with the women.  Byron writes to Augusta and Augusta reads the letter to Bella.  He says he has grown tired of "concubinage" and has left Venice in pursuit of a young woman named Teresa, who is married to an old rich Count.  Byron lives for a year with her in a palace in Revella.  He says Teresa is his last attachment for he is done with passion.  Teresa's marriage was annulled and now they have settled in Pisa where they have a circle of friends, including Shelley and his wife. 

Byron is angered by the refusal of his publisher to publish his latest work because it is too bawdy.  He rants against the stagnant Europe.  The subject of Greece comes up.  There is fighting there now.  Some in the English community in Pisa think they should go fight for Greece against the Turks.  Teresa comes with the bad news that his daughter by Claire Clairmont is dead.  Byron tells Shelley that he misses his little girl with her brilliant eyes.  Mrs. Shelley tells Byron not to go to Greece.  The Greeks killed 3,000 civilians recently.  Shelley drowns at sea.  Byron is grief-stricken. 

Missolonghi, Greece, 1824.  Byron is in charge of a group of Greek soldiers.  He takes his men out.   They find a dead man's body placed in a tree.  It rains and rains.  Byron becomes ill.  In bed he shakes badly.  The doctor says it is a mild marsh fever.  They will bleed Byron and he will recover.  But Byron does not recover.  He dies.  With the death of his employer, Fletcher comes home to his wife. 

 

Good movie and very interesting because Byron was pretty messed-up psychologically speaking. He had sex with men and women and he had incest with his sister.  In these days, it is not that big of a deal, but Byron was criticized a great deal for having anal sex with his wife.  (It was a crime in Byron's day.)  Loving his sister primarily, Byron should have insisted on never marrying.  But his sister Augusta put pressure on him to marry.  One reason for this was because the spendthrift Byron was deeply in debt and needed money.  The one thing that is sure is that his wife was too good for him.  She loved him, supported him and was very considerate and kind to him.  He was so different and such a tortured soul that it was fun to watch just how deeply he could get himself into trouble.  The acting was good all around. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 

 

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