In 19th-century England, love meant staying within
one's class. Deviate, and you die penniless, and probably alone.
The hero in Basil, a costume drama running all this
month on Romance Classics, must not have read the rule book. The film, coproduced by
Christian Slater from a book by Wilkie Collins, has some of the makings of an Ismael
Merchant film -- hapless lovers, classic settings, the pressures of class.
But somehow, director Radha Bharadwaj just doesn't
pull it off. Abrupt editing conspires against a relaxed flow of the narrative, and the
young cast frankly seems too contemporary for the time period that they try to represent.
Jared Leto stars as Basil, the second son of a hardened
aristocrat. Basil's mother and brother are introduced and disposed of in the first 12
minutes (to consumption and scandal, respectively). That leaves Basil to grow to repressed
adulthood with a father who believes that imagination and make-believe "are never
As a college student, Basil's life is saved by a
stranger, Jack Manion. Friendless, Basil clings to Jack, who promises to introduce him to
women in London.
The hapless Jack falls hard for the first naked neck he
sees -- that of Julia, daughter of his boss. From this point, the plot twists and turns
through double crosses, secret assignations, more naked necks, revelation and revenge. Its
last quarter resembles The Phantom of the Opera more than a Jane Austen romance,
but without the pathos.
Leto has a tough task as the love-starved college student.
Yes, he's easy on the eye, but he doesn't exhibit the smoldering passion that
would allow you to believe that he would gamble all on love.
Slater, too, seems out of place -- better off in the Sky
Bar than in a salon.
Overall, the production does classical on a budget,
trimming sets with greenery and drapes and shooting in low light to evoke the gray English
days. But it's a bit too tidy overall.
Basil has debuted, but it will repeat throughout
October as part of Romance Classics' "Moonlight Months" fall programming