Desperate Romantics is a TV drama serial about the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood of painters who scandalised the world of Victorian art.
If you think you don’t know much about art history or the Pre-Raphaelites then you…probably wrote it! One critic dubbed it “Confessions of an Easel Painter”, which is perhaps a little unfair, but it does to art roughly what The Tudors did to history.
Not that anyone is pretending otherwise. The opening episode began with a brazen disclaimer:
“The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood were inspired by the real world, yet took imaginative licence. This story, based on their lives and loves, follows in that inventive spirit.”
They might have added:
So now we don’t have to bother with any of that dreary factual stuff, let the rolicking and frolicking begin…
Desperate Romantics: (from l-r): John Millais (Samuel Barnett), Gabriel Rossetti (Aidan Turner), Holman Hunt (Rafe Spall), Fred Walters (Sam Crane)
In the first episode, the four principal artists trawled London for a suitable model.
They had one main rule:
Redheads only, please.
Can’t argue with that, and they ended up with four! Lizzie Siddall, Annie Miller, Jane Morris and Fanny Cornforth – slum girls picked up from the streets who the PRB blended into a single icon of feminine beauty.
More importantly, the actresses playing the raunchy redheads all delivered the goods with multiple nude scenes.
Naughty cockney sparrow Annie was my favourite played by Jennie Jacques. Alabaster skin, long curly red locks, and an “I’m asking for a good spanking” attitude. What more could you want?
This seems to be Jennie Jacques’ first TV role (apart from an Equity card-earning appearance in The Bill). I hope to see more of her.
And yes, she did get spanked. In Episode 3, she received a crisp one-smacker to the rump from Rosetti as she entered a house. Well deserved too.
But just as good was her nude scene in Episode 4.
Other characters include art critic John Ruskin and his wife Effie (Zoe Tapper) who is still a virgin after four years of marriage and embarks on an affair with the wimpy Millais.
One hilarious scene had Rosetti lending Millais the (Pre-Featherlite?) Brotherhood condom:
“Just remember to rinse it out afterwards….and before!”
I found a scathing review on The New Statesman website which mentioned a great idea for a scene between Ruskin and Effie, (it could have been included as a fantasy sequence dreamed up by Effie):
“On current form, the frustrated Effie Ruskin is about as likely to fall for him (Millais) as Ruskin is to bend her over and spank her bare bottom with a copy of The Seven Lamps of Architecture.”
Now any writer who manages to get the words “spank” and “bare bottom” into a sentence along with title of a classic work of Victorian art criticism deserves some recognition. So I should point out that the article was written by an attractive young journalist called Rachel Cook. (A trip to the library with her could prove to be a lot of fun!)
Zoe Tapper was seen full-frontal in the awkward sex scene with Millais.(“Perhaps if you were to move a little back and forward, that would be pleasurable?” “So it is! So it is!”)
Her rear architecture hasn’t been on display so far, but this has to be a great excuse to repeat some old screen grabs. They do say that Ruskin was appalled by the sight of his wife’s pubic hair when she disrobed on their wedding night, and the experience put him off sex for life.
Perhaps she should have just turned round and pointed to the nearest bookcase.