The Devil’s Violinist (2013) had a lot of things going for it: Bernard Rose (of Immortal Beloved fame) wrote and directed it; it starred a really really ridiculously good-looking guy who was an actual violinist, so at least the musical bits wouldn’t look fake; and it had Joely Richardson playing a kind of Cockney George Sand, which is what got my attention in the first place. That said, it got horribly panned when it was released. Kendra and Trystan even briefly mocked it in one of our bad movies and TV snippets, deeming it not worthy of their time. Well, dear readers, I am not so easily scared off. I was hoping that the comparison to Immortal Beloved was being unjustly unfair because, face it, Immortal Beloved is a phenomenal film — but, nope, The Devil’s Violinist really truly sucks.
The plot focuses on Niccolo Paganini, the great violinist of the early 19th century, and is driven by a highly fanciful take on the rumors that he had struck a deal with the devil in order to achieve fame and fortune. That Paganini was devastatingly handsome and one of the rock stars of his age is indisputable, and the casting of the very pretty David Garrett, real-life virtuoso violinist and something of a pop star himself, looked good on paper, I’m sure. However, the reality is that Garrett cannot act his way out of a wet paper bag. Whatever sex appeal he has is subverted entirely by his forced and wooden acting, so you’re not even able to enjoy the eye candy because you can’t stop focusing on how awful he is. Even when he’s just sitting there saying nothing. Seriously, I’ve never seen anyone be able to suck at just sitting there quite like David Garrett. The rest of the cast can’t breathe life into the plot with Garrett sucking it out again and again, so everyone is forced to overcompensate, creating a remarkable feedback loop of scene chewing.
The one actor that manages to somehow rise above it is Andrea Deck, who plays Paganini’s love interest and the daughter of his promoter. Give that girl a medal for triumphing in the face of insurmountable odds, because not even veteran Joely Richardson could manage it. That Cockney George Sand? Cringingly bad all the way around. Richardson looks like someone roughed up Rita Skeeter in a back alley and forced her to wear hobo clothes. It’s already a stretch to believe that a woman would be a beat reporter for The Times in the 1830s, but the suspension of disbelief is totally destroyed by having her character run around looking like a cosplaying chimney sweep who got lost on the way to a Mary Poppins convention. And her accent is about as bad as Dick Van Dyke’s, just to add insult to injury.
Costumes in The Devil’s Violinist
So, now that we’ve established how bad the film is, what about the costumes? Surely, Bernard Rose would have nothing less than amazing costumes in his follow-up to the impeccably costumed Immortal Beloved, right? Wrong. Austrian costumer Birgit Hutter (Houdini) manages to just miss the mark. There’s a lot of “well, it’s close enough,” especially with the corsets that feature heavily throughout the film as Paganini sleeps his way through a vast array of prostitutes. In any given whorehouse scene, there are 1830s style corsets are shown next to 1890s style corsets — and there are a lot of whorehouse scenes. I wouldn’t go as far as to say the costumes sucked, and to be honest, if the plot and the acting were better, I would have probably gone much softer on the costuming … Instead, it’s just the disappointing icing on a crap cake.
Charlotte’s peach opera gown is the one noteworthy costume in the entire film. It looked so familiar that I went trawling the internet for far longer than I should have trying to see if it was recycled from another movie. My conclusion is that it reminds me a lot of something Emma Thompson would have worn in Impromptu, and that’s what was pinging on my radar.
The theme for Paganini is “tortured artist.” At one point there’s a scene that full on reminded me of Michael Jackson’s face mask-wearing phase, but because of the annoying shaky-cam style filmography (WHY, BERNARD, WHY), I couldn’t get a screengrab of it. He slouches around and wears black a lot and apparently doesn’t believe in shaving his neck or brushing his hair. The overall effect isn’t sexy, it’s just skeezy.
Christian McKay plays Charlotte’s father, John, who is a conductor/promoter at one of London’s opera houses. He concocts the harebrained idea to lure Paganini to London and bankrupts himself in the process. About all I can say is I would have preferred a more fitted silhouette at this point in the 19th century as far as his costumes go.
Veronica Ferres is Charlotte’s step-mother, Elizabeth, who is herself a former (?) opera singer, who ran off with Charlotte’s dad. Elizabeth is initially set up as though she’s going to be Charlotte’s antagonist and main competitor for Paganini’s affections (even explicitly telling John that she would leave him in a heartbeat for Paganini), but in the end, she’s sort of lamely encouraging of Charlotte’s talent. After Charlotte is caught in a vicious scheme to discredit her in the press to teach Paganini a lesson, it’s Elizabeth who suggests that Charlotte capitalize on her new-found infamy and hit the European tour circuit.
Which, of course, Charlotte does, while Paganini suffers the effects of syphilis and drug addiction alone and miserable in Paris. She refuses to see him again and quite wisely ends up cutting off all contact with him. We see her moving to America and crushing it on stage singing the aria Paganini wrote and asked her to perform. Her costume, hair, and makeup are cringingly bad because America, I guess.
Olivia d’Abo plays tertiary character Primrose Blackstone, the pinch-lipped leader of a band of feminists who follow Paganini around London, protesting his sinful ways. She looks appropriately irritating in her large black bonnet and stringy blonde hair.
Eliza Doolittle Ethel Langham in her only other outfit:
Jared Harris plays Urbani, Paganini’s manager/probably demonic overlord. He scene chews the worst out of everyone, doing all but swirl his cape and if he had one, twirl his mustache at every turn while wearing a ridiculously tall top hat.
The Devil’s Violinist could have benefitted from so many changes, that it would probably end up being a different movie all together had at any point someone taken Bernard Rose aside and questioned whether it was a really good idea to allow poor, hapless David Garrett to follow in Gary Oldman’s venerable steps. No one can avoid comparing this film to Immortal Beloved, because it had so much banked on that association from the get-go. Rose should have known that the best course of action would have been to find an actor, not a musician, to play the lead, and it all went to shit from there.
In conclusion, I suggest watching The Devil’s Violinist while moderately tipsy. Maybe not full-on drunk, but definitely have a decent buzz going. It’ll help, trust me.