Directed by Julien Temple, starring John Hannah, Linus Roache, Samantha Morton, Emily Woof, Emma Fielding and Andy Serkis.
A sporadically diverting sketch of soured friendship, emotional trauma and the use of drugs in the quest for artistic freedom, 'Pandaemonium' differs little from the usual human drama vehicles except in one category: the film's main characters are two of the finest poets ever to write in the English language, William Wordsworth (Hannah) and Samuel Taylor Coleridge (Roache). Screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce has fused his script with the eternal themes of friendship, addiction and betrayal, while director Julien Temple frames his film with archaic stylistics and contemporary resonance. But it's a resonance that is wholly subordinate to the historical inaccuracy of the piece.
'Pandaemonium' opens in London's Guildhall in 1816. The aristocratic and artistic elite have gathered for the announcement of the new Poet Laureate. Among those present are the smug, conceited Wordsworth, trendy Lord Byron, affable Robert Southey and the drug-addled Coleridge. Before the announcement, the film goes on an extended flashback to 1795 London, and to the dawn of the Coleridge/Wordsworth friendship.
Drawn to each other by their artistic and socialist ideologies, Sam and Will strike up a camaraderie borne out on mutual appreciation and poetic empathy. Eager to escape the capital's capitalist rot, Coleridge, together with his wife and child, soon leaves London for Somerset to embark on the creation of an artistically inspiring existence of bucolic bliss. Wordsworth, accompanied by his spirited and opinionated sister Dorothy, soon follows.
Temple then brings the viewer on a drawn out journey into the disintegration of the poets' erstwhile amity, as Coleridge sinks deeper into the quagmire of opium addiction, and Wordsworth struggles with his own artistic redundancy. The paradigm here is simple: the more stoned Coleridge gets, the more ambitious and grandiose his writing becomes. And the more elaborate Coleridge's verse becomes, Wordsworth's paranoia and resentfulness increases twofold. This is, of course, completely untrue.
It's probably somewhat ironic that 'Pandaemonium' would have been far more appealing if its central characters were hoi-polloi poetic wannabes. But to expect audiences to accept Wordsworth as a Machiavellian shyster with little talent is stretching things beyond Hollywood proportions. Conversely, the depiction of Coleridge as an early incarnation of Jim Morrison is quite hilarious.
In deference to Temple, the visuals of 'Pandaemonium' are frequently impressive, evincing the ministries of nature and the rural realm with colourful panache. At times, one can almost see the poetry. In the end, however, Wordsworth had talent and wasn't a charlatan. Similarly, although he did enjoy some level of narcotic indulgence, Coleridge wasn't the Lizard King that Temple would like us to think.