King Charles II (Malkovich) calls upon banished poet laureate, the second Earl of Rochester, John Wilmot (Depp), to create an overwhelmingly impressive play to improve Anglo–French relations. As he writes, a young actress (Morton) catches the Earl's eye — which is not difficult (he'll knob anything with legs), but this girl is different.
John Wilmot drank and shagged his way to an early grave. He also wrote the play The Quintessence Of Debauchery — seemingly based on personal experience. Director Laurence Dunmore was the man responsible for the advert that suggested receiving a particular watch at Christmas warrants a blow job. This biopic of Wilmot’s latter, grubbier years — Dunmore’s feature debut, and an adaptation of Stephen Jeffreys’ play of the same name — would seem to be a perfect marriage of material and maker. It’s a shame, then, that it’s not only a bit of a mess, but also a rather dull one.
While the script has some cracking quips, the story, like the cinematography, is overly foggy and under-illuminated. Depp is clearly doing his best, but Malkovich and Morton are criminally wasted, and only some of the smaller supporting roles are completely effective.
On the upside, Michael Nyman’s score is up to his usual excellent standard and Dunmore makes the most of limited locations. As for debauchery, it’s been done before, and better.
In his opening address, the Earl tells us, "You will not like me," but it’s worse than that — by the end, we just don’t care.