Film Movement Blu-ray Review: Edward II (1991)

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There's the phrase “breathes new life into old material” and then there's the feat achieved by production designer turned filmmaker Derek Jarman with his adaptation of Christopher Marlowe's nearly four hundred year old play via the 1991 New Queer Cinema masterpiece, Edward II.

Inspired by the reign of the openly gay fourteenth century monarch, in Jarman's hands, Marlowe's 1593 work, originally dubbed The Troublesome Reign and Lamentable Death of Edward the Second, King of England, with the Tragical Fall of Proud Mortimer, becomes all the more urgent given the backdrop of the AIDS crisis and England's increasingly homophobic policies resulting in a period of unrest and protest.

Having recently revealed his status as HIV positive, the politically active filmmaking provocateur who once famously said “I didn't have to adapt a cause, I became one,” broke new ground in terms of adaptation from page to stage to screen.

A towering achievement in visual storytelling, according to Jarman's muse and Edward II lead actress Tilda Swinton, the director relished the opportunity the film gave him “to jump right into the echelons of contemporary power in England with whom he felt so at odds.”

Taking advantage of its low budget to be even more experimental, Edward II was filmed without windows, doors, or natural light sources, instead using four block walls as an interchangeable set.

Returning to the kind of creative stage and production design for which he first made his name, Jarman and his crew employ Third Man like shadowy spotlights in one scene before using them altogether differently in an epically romantic sequence where actor Steven Waddington's titular character dances with his lover to Cole Porter's “Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye” sung by Annie Lennox just one block over.

Serving up a constantly evolving, gleefully anachronistic, visceral cocktail which mixes together nude rugby players, Tilda Swinton's Queen Isabella going full vampire in front of her perpetually in-drag son, as well as a full-blown gay rights protest with real life activists, as wild as Edward II gets, Jarman keeps it from spiraling into chaos.

No stranger to unconventional adaptations and biopics, while Edward II is incredibly experimental, Jarman does more than simply use Marlowe's source material as a jumping off point. Impressively, while it's tempting to just simply turn off your brain and see where the chameleon like picture goes next, we're nonetheless riveted to the point that – even when it threatens to lose us – thanks in no small part as well to its first rate cast, we remain as focused on the narrative storyline as we are on the visual one.

Making its Blu-ray debut twenty-seven years after it bowed into film festivals and arthouse theaters courtesy of Film Movement Classics, Edward II has been given the royal treatment in this collectible worthy release.

Filling each of my speakers beautifully to the point that I felt like I could hear the sound pinging off all four of those block walls, following a recent digital restoration, Edward II looks as lush as it sounds.

With a lovingly penned prologue by Tilda Swinton as well as a thought provoking critical essay by Bruce LaBruce, the Blu-ray also boasts a worthwhile, roughly twenty-three minute documentary featurette that delivers new interviews from those working behind and in front of the scenes, including the producers at Working Title, which has come a long way since 1991, continuing to bring us some of the best films from the UK.

Perfectly synced to release during Pride Month, though long revered as a work of New Queer excellence, Edward II has been long absent from Blu-ray and DVD shelves. A fascinating find for this film studies major and straight ally, Film Movement gave classics lovers more to cheer for by choosing the exact same day to also bring us the filmed performance of Maxine Peake as the first female Hamlet in nearly forty years to DVD.

And while it's bittersweet because he's not around to see this release, the same way Christopher Marlowe did for Edward II in his play, and Derek Jarman did for them both in this film, through Edward II, here in 2018, Christopher Marlowe, Edward II, and Derek Jarman continue to live on.

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