Edward II

Archival Presentations | 1991 | 87 minutes

Stranger Says:

The late Derek Jarman came fully, ragingly into his own with this adaptation of Christopher Marlowe’s play about a king (Steven Waddington) who scandalizes his wife (Tilda Swinton, naturally), appalls the court, and sets palace intrigue in full-tilt motion by taking a male lover. This was truly one of the breakthrough works of contemporary queer cinema. And though you can see the 1991 on it, the performances, design, and whole sensibility of the film remain really magnificent.

SIFF Says:

Ye olde historical record shows that Piers Gaveston, a "favorite" at the court of English king Edward II (1284–1327), achieved a much higher pinnacle of power than his humble birth warranted. Historians still debate why; were Gaveston and Edward lovers or only friends? But for filmmaker Derek Jarman, a pioneer in the New Queer Cinema movement of the ’90s, there was no question. His adaptation of Christopher Marlowe’s 1594 play made a splash with its combination of matter-of-fact homoeroticism, contemporary costumes, and stark, stagelike sets, all dirt floors and walls. The animosity raised among the nobility by the bratty Gaveston (played by Andrew Tiernan like a cousin to Malcolm McDowell’s taunting Alex in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE) convinces Edward to banish him, but Edward’s wife Isabella of France (in the role that launched Tilda Swinton’s career as cinema’s supreme ice queen) lures him back in a sinister keep-your-enemies-closer ploy. Visually, Jarman meticulously constructed EDWARD II out of shadows and candlelight, male skin, flashes of bloody violence, Isabella’s couture gowns, and the porcelain planes of Swinton’s face. Except for a few scenes, his style is more rough trade than camp; his anger over Thatcher’s Britain heats up the film’s taut, elegant stylization, even portraying a pro-Edward army as a placard-bearing crowd of gay-rights protesters.

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Film Credits
Derek Jarman
Steven Waddington, Kevin Collins, Andrew Tiernan, Tilda Swinton, John Lynch
SIFF 2018