Sunday, 21 June 2015

The Devil's Violinist (2015)

Less an accurate biopic, and more an enthusiastic showcase for the talents of David Garrett (its renowned violinist star) Bernard Rose’s entertaining, and occasionally sensational, period piece about the life and career of Niccolo Paganini comes to UK DVD courtesy of Metrodome.

After a couple of brief scenes showing the soon-to-be-virtuoso as a child, followed by his first attempts to gain public recognition, we jump forward to 1830. Paganini is at the height of his career and is acclaimed throughout Europe. Along the way he has been involved in a vast number of affairs and scandals, has acquired an almost pantomime villain-like manager in the form of Urbani (Jared THE QUIET ONES Harris), and is practically penniless having lost all his money at cards. 

Salvation comes in the form of England’s John Watson (Christian McKay) who wants to bring Paganini to the Royal Opera House for a series of concerts. Watson sends Paganini the money to come over. Paganini spends it. Watson sends more. Paganini spends that as well. Now almost destitute, Watson finally manages to get Paganini across to the UK, where he has to live in Watson’s furniture and servant-depleted house. There he meets Watson’s daughter Charlotte (Andrea Deck) a budding soprano who refuses to be seduced by his first.

Anyone looking for historical accuracy in THE DEVIL’S VIOLINIST is going to be disappointed. However, if you want to see Mr Garrett giving his all on the violin in a movie this is the place to be. He’s obviously not an actor, but since when did that ever stop the movies casting David Bowie, Sting, Roger Daltrey et al in starring roles? Bernard Rose very sensibly gives as little dialogue to Mr Garrett as possible and lets all the acting take place around him. Rose is no Ken Russell, but in this case that’s probably a good thing, as Garrett’s performances are wild enough, and they benefit from the relative restraint of the rest of the picture.

The cast is eminently watchable. Jared Harris resembles Robert Helpmann’s child catcher in a big hat and doesn’t quite bring the gravitas the movie would benefit from in this role. Joely Richardson does an interesting turn as a Fleet Street hack - all top hat and ginger curls with a bit of a ‘Gor Blimey’ accent, and Andrea Deck as Charlotte gives the best, and most understated, performance as the soprano who gets the chance to shine. Watch out also for Olivia D’Abo (CONAN THE DESTROYER) as a Paganini-protester, and Helmut Berger (!) as Lord Burgher.

I’ve always been a fan of writer-director Bernard Rose, who made both CANDYMAN and the earlier PAPERHOUSE. I liked DEVIL’S VIOLINIST more than IMMORTAL BELOVED, his movie about Beethoven with Gary Oldman. Here, as well as giving the music its rightful centre stage, Rose also demonstrates an eye for the gothic that will have some wishing he was making ‘proper horror films’ for the resurrected Hammer.
          Musical highlights include some of Paganini’s own compositions, as well as a wealth of material from Schubert and Rachmaninov. And there’s plenty of it, which after all is what a film like this should be all about. Metrodome’s DVD contains no extras, but if you’re looking for an entertaining period picture about Paganini and featuring some electrifying solos this hits the spot nicely. 

Metrodome are releasing Bernard Rose's THE DEVIL'S VIOLINIST on Region 2 DVD on 22nd June 2015

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