December 13, 20078:30pm

Not so much a faithful biography as an examination of the homo-erotic in the Renaissance artist’s work. Jarman’s film focuses on speculation about the relationships between Caravaggio and his models – a tale of a love triangles and scandals ensues, but what stands out is the directors signature artistic flourishes and theatrical tableaux. Some may find Jarman’s treatment doesn’t work – the deliberate anachronisms might seem clunky, others see this as a valid approach – faithful to the artists work, or at least to a personal interpretation of it – that is a welcome experiment compared to the otherwise sterile treatments that usually characterise this genre of filmmaking.

Whatever your view this remains Jarman’s finest film, a compelling and accessible example of high-minded camp. Shortly after the release of this film the director announced he was HIV-positive and his work became increasingly political. In Guardian critic, Andrew Pulver’s words the 2005 re-release of Caravaggio feels somehow like a valedictory letter from a distant era – the pre-Aids 1980s.

The film sports a cast of established actors plus newcomers who subsequently made good including Tilda Swinton, Sean Bean and Robbie Coltrane.

In production terms, the effect is remarkable, perfectly capturing the tone, the light and the colour of the paintings, but Jarman also brings out what he senses are their character, their inner life and meaning art and life inseparable and indistinguishable. Noel Magahey, DVD Times

The film cuts between the older Caravaggio (Nigel Terry) on his death bed and earlier episodes of his life, knitted together with a poetic voice-over which articulates the artists struggle with doubt and how to invest art with the passion of lived experience. It is clear that Jarman himself wrestled with these elements, and the film is most successful when he captures the tension between emotional reality and the creative representation of it. Cherry Smyth, BFI.

Share this film (1279):   

TwitterFacebookWhatsAppLinkedIn Email
Film Information
Release year: 1986
Running time:   93 mins
Directed by: Derek Jarman
Language: English
Country: UK
Classification: 18
Genre: Biography, Drama
Starring: Sean Bean,
Dexter Fletcher,
Nigel Terry,
Tilda Swinton

Berlin Silver Bear,
Istanbul International Film Festival,
Special Jury Prize

View our 341 screenings by season, country, language and other dimensions.

Sign up for the Wimbledon Film Club mailing list and find out about our upcoming screenings at the Curzon in Wimbledon.

All fields are required