Monday, June 15, 2009

Beau Brummel: This Charming Man

Beau Brummel was almost The Celebrity of the early Regency period, even though, to the Amateur Historian's mind, his claim to fame was really only getting dressed in the morning. Granted, as Queen of Fashion or any biography will tell you, clothing was of significant symbolic importance during said time-period. Wear knee-breeches (culottes, in French) and you would be considered a part of the repressive Ancien Regime, and pretty much an open target to the sans-culottes who disapprove of your fashion choices. Wear a gaulle, and alternately be accused of immorality or be a paragon of Roussean simplicity. Wear a fox-tail in your hat to show your Whiggish leanings and support for Charles James Fox! I suppose Brummel was sort of the first hipster, making ironic detachment and cool, and a look of careless (but cultivated) elegance the way to go.

The film stars the amazing-in-period-costume James Purefoy, who seems to be contractually obligated by the BBC to end his roles in a dazed, drunken stupor while depressed, abandoned and crying. (Marc Antony, why did it have to end the way it did?). The man is gorgeous in a cravat and plays Beau Brummel with an understated charm and quiet friendliness. He is the epitome of a dandy. Hugh Bonneville plays a sadly realistic Prince Regent, and Matthew Rhys plays a very pretty Lord Byron. I have absolutely no complaints with the costumes, which were drool-worthy, or the sets, which were equally fantastic. I do, however, have some quibbles with the plot.

The biopic is a tragedy, wherein the viewer believes Brummel will win and then Brummel pretty much commits social suicide, and James Purefoy is left brokenly (and, the Amateur Historian must admit, beautifully) sobbing all by himself. To be more specific, Brummel starts out as biffles with the Prince Regent, to the point where the prince calls him over in the middle of the night to read Henry IV out loud. Brummel has to read Falstaff, whom he dubs, "Fat-staff", but gets to use his biffle status to spook his creditors into never collecting on his debt. Alas, however. The good times, symbolized by shaky, quasi-artistic shots that looked either like the camera or the cameraman was on speed, or that they had blown their budget on the totally fab costumes and were forced to use hand-held cameras, had to come to an end.

Brummel, while living the high-life, falls madly in love with Lord Byron, in an incredibly hot but historically dubious turn of events that alienates Beau from Prince George. Beau loses his reputation and his money, luck and friends, has an artistic flashback while watching's Sheridan's glorious School for Scandal, and then vanishes, leaving the credits to inform us that he fled to France. (To die in poverty, but they left that bit out. Considering what an angst fest the film because, with a tearful Brummel begging Byron to stay, and falling apart at the seams-- not literally, of course. Dandies don't let a little thing like total ruin affect their wardrobes-- the Amateur Historian did expect it. Seriously, one of the scenes was along the lines of:

Brummel: You were amazing in our historically inaccurate threesome with a courtesan named Julia, wherein she was the conduit for our socially unacceptable homoerotic passion for one another. I love you.
Byron: I love me too.
Brummel: Will you stay?
Byron: *poetic blather*
Brummel: Will you stay?
Byron: *poetic blather* Life is art, you are art in motion, Beau. You are art itself! That is why you are famous when you have contributed next to nothing to society. You are walking art.
Brummel: But will you stay?
Byron: I say, my half-sister's very pretty, isn't she?
Brummel: Will you stay, George?
Byron: ... let's see if we can start an orgy, eh? *wanders off*
Brummel: *tearfully* He won't stay.
Amateur Historian: NO DUH.)

The Amateur Historian's personal favorite part of the piece was the war to the death between the fops and the dandies. Two fops attempt to go head-to-head with Brummel on the street, at which point Brummel pummels them. Dandies, after all, do what they please whenever they please and look carelessly elegant while doing so. Though the Amateur Historian has a soft spot for fops (see The Scarlet Pimpernel as to why, and then tell me you don't love Sir Percy), it is amusing to see a bunch of them thumbing their noses at Brummel, who pioneered today's standard male dress-clothes in the form of a dark suit (with trousers), boots or black shoes, and a neat tie. Real men, you see, wore perfume, lace, high heels and rouge.

Now, what can we take from this film, aside from the fact that fops and dandies are mortal enemies and that Byron's love affairs just cannot be contained by such a silly thing as historical fact? The morals of the story seem to be: a. don't sleep with Lord Byron, b. don't call your biffle fat, and c. DON'T SLEEP WITH LORD BYRON. Seriously. You lose all your friends, fortune, and fame and flee to France to escape your creditors. Not a glamourous end, really.

The film itself is very glamorous, however, and has moments of wit (some from Brummel himself, some stolen from Oscar Wilde-- oh subtext, how the BBC doth love thee) in between the shaky good-times shots and the descent into wrist-gnawingly intense angst. As with Gothic, there are some lovely, tasteful scenes of a beautiful naked man and a nymphomanic Byron. However, unlike Gothic, there is a plot and actual logic to the story. It isn't the best period film I've ever seen, since I don't really enjoy maudlin pieces unless they are over-the-top and hilarious, but it is worth a rent for the costumes (and lack thereof. Oh James Purefoy! If Beau Brummel looked like you, no wonder people lined up to watch him dress each morning).


  1. LOL your summary is hilarious...I want to see this, if only for the pretty. I am getting West Side story-esque imagery for the fops vs. dandies bit...if thats not in there, it should be in something :)

  2. Thank you! Haha, I wish that was in there. It's more of a minor altercation in which Beau Brummel beats people with his walking stick and then snide comments over card tables. I wish that would happen, though. I can just see the vengeful minuets!

  3. I was watching the Stuart Granger version and looked up Beau Brummel and came across your summary of the BBC version - Gosh I wish I was watching that pip pip etc - yours sounds so much better looking and they both abandon the truth very good

  4. James is a great bloke.

  5. oh my this was great, i know who Brummel is, i know his story but i've never seen the movies. i love the reenactment of that one scene u did, lol i can imagine it now, u made me want to watch this movie just so i can watch that scene and laugh lol

  6. ANATA- They do abandon the truth very delightfully, though if one is familiar with the period one's reaction is veyr much along the lines of, "!!???!!!!???" At least it is a very pretty departure!

    Anonymous 1- YES I AGREE SO HARD.

    Anonymous 2- Thank you! This film is... well, to be honest, aside from some lovely clothes, I think the most fun I had with it was mocking it.