If you set out to make the artiest arthouse story about an artist and his arty friends in their art filled world, the resulting film would probably look and feel something like Love is the Devil (or Love is the Devil: Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon to give its full title). A bleak, often masochistic depiction of Bacon’s destructive relationship with his unstable muse and lover George Dyer, this is a gloriously eccentric story of London’s bohemian underbelly in the 1960s but one that is a little too pretentious for its own good at times.
Writer and director John Maybury’s film focusses on a particular period in Bacon’s life and his turbulent relationship with petty crook Dyer. At this time the successful Bacon was enjoying the life of an alcoholic bon viveur and he and the equally substance reliant Dyer became emotionally intertwined, despite the latter’s lack of any artistic sensibility.
The main issue with Love is the Devil is the episodic nature of the narrative. Feeling more like a play than a film throughout, it feels like an eccentrically diarised account of the period. Brief, overly edited scenes, although often highly impactful, become increasingly incoherent as Maybury seems intent on entirely reflecting the abstract stylings of his subject. Rarely is a scene allowed to flow and develop giving the whole piece an uneven pace and tone. There are moments to enjoy, in particular scenes within the legendary The Colony Room so popular with artists and drinkers of the time, but these are rare against the unapproachable nature of the film.
Conversely, the performances are anything but. Jacobi and Craig inhabit their respective roles of Bacon and Dyer entirely, pushing the uncomfortable truth of the central relationship to the limits of taste, and Swinton adds to her chameleonic reputation as the larger-than-life proprietor of The Colony Club. There is great joy and sadness to be found within the extreme lives of these era defining characters, but the controlling direction gives only a passing glimpse behind the drunken façade.
So obsessed do the filmmakers appear to be with Bacon that they have produced a film entirely beholden to the artist, and while admirable in many ways, if you’re not a fan of his work then this could come across as entirely indulgent and forgiving of a man who was as flawed as he was brilliant.
LOVE IS THE DEVIL / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: JOHN MAYBURY / STARRING: DEREK JACOBI, DANIEL CRAIG, TILDA SWINTON, ANNE LAMBTON / RELEASE DATE: NOVEMBER 23RD