The Movie Waffler New to VOD - THE LAUREATE | The Movie Waffler


New Release Review - THE LAUREATE
Poet Robert Graves and his wife Nancy Nicholson enter an unconventional relationship with American poet Laura Riding.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: William Nunez

Starring: Tom Hughes, Dianna Agron, Laura Haddock, Indica Watson, Fra Fee

The Laureate poster

Unless they're made by Terence Davies (A Quiet Passion; Benediction), movies about poets aren't usually very entertaining. Observing rather than participating in life, poets, like most writers, tend not to lead the most interesting lives. That can't be said of English poet Robert Graves, who indulged his love of women throughout his life, even living in a ménage á trois with his wife and another woman for several years. Writer/director William Nunez hones in on this saucy period of Graves' life for The Laureate, a b-movie cousin of Philip Kaufman's Henry & June.

The Laureate review

Fealty to Graves' actual life, or at least as it's popularly documented, is thrown out the window from the off, with this version of Graves (Tom Hughes) struggling for inspiration in the mid-1920s, a time when he was actually quite prolific. He's living in the ominously named "World's End" cottage with his wife, the illustrator Nancy Nicholson (Laura Haddock), and their young daughter Catherine (Indica Watson), with three of the couple's real life children excised for narrative streamlining here. Contrary to the word of literary historians, who claim Nicholson had no time to indulge Graves' PTSD and banned all mention of the war from their relationship, here she's an ultra supportive wife who bends over backwards to support Graves and his work. Graves is something of a kept man in this version, with Hughes often playing the poet as though he's heavily sedated. Graves was famously a bit of a sex addict, something else his wife refused to indulge, but here he's portrayed as a prude who fails to satisfy Nicholson's desires.

Graves' creative passion, along with his libido, is roused by the entrance of American poet Laura Riding (Dianna Agron), whom he invites to live at World's End after being won over by her ideas on the path forward for poetry. Riding immediately begins flirting with her fellow poet, even inviting him to join her for a bath as he stutters and shuffles like a '90s Hugh Grant. Unable to get her hands on Graves, Riding switches her attention to Nicholson, who quickly succumbs to her seduction. Seeing how Riding has inspired Graves, Nicholson asks her to seduce her husband, and after several attempts she finally succeeds in bedding him.

The Laureate review

In reality the three lived in Egypt, but presumably for budgetary reasons this version keeps them in the grounds of World's End. The threesome works well initially and for a while The Laureate might be mistaken for a progressive take on unconventional relationships in the manner of Professor Marston and the Wonder Women. There's a lovely scene in which the three lovers and Catherine are quietly going about their respective business in their living room. With Graves and Riding composing poems, Nicholson drawing and Catherine wrapped up in a book, it's the very picture of familial bliss, if far from the traditional idea of such a thing. But of course, humans being the way they are, jealousy soon tears the three apart, with Nicholson beginning to feel like an intellectual spare tyre.

If Riding is initially portrayed as a Mary Poppins figure who comes into the life of the troubled Graves at just the right moment, it's not long before she reveals herself as something closer to Cruella de Vil. Agron plays the part with the sneer of a Disney villain, and the movie's second half adopts a very conservative scorn towards the poetess. The liberated feminist we meet at first morphs into the antagonist of an erotic thriller as she absconds to London with Graves and takes another lover in a young aspiring Irish poet (Fra Fee). The Laureate flirts with fully embracing TV movie thriller tropes in a scene where Riding almost goads Catherine into leaping from a second storey window.

The Laureate review

If you're a fan of any of the artists portrayed here you'll probably spend much of The Laureate's running time rolling your eyes. It's more interested in being a trashy erotic drama (albeit one with a curious lack of nudity) than an insightful look at a period in a poet's life. That said, as trashy erotic dramas go, it's rarely dull. Agron's audition to play the villainess of whatever classic animation Disney decides to dust off for their next live action reboot is enough to recommend The Laureate to less discerning viewers. Ever since her breakout on TV's Glee, Agron has been cast in girl next door roles, so it's refreshing to see her get the chance to vamp it up as a wicked witch, though fans of the real life Riding may not see it that way.

The Laureate
 is on UK/ROI VOD now.

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