I don’t know if I’m really the right person to review the 2003 TV mini-series Byron, the Lord Byron biopic starring Jonny Lee Miller as the Romantic poet, as I’ve NEVER gotten into poetry and so don’t give a toss about him or any of the other Romantic poets. That being said, it popped up on Amazon, and I wanted something to watch, so watch it I did, so here’s my review! Feel free to disparage me in the comments.
The series focuses on Byron’s romantic entanglements, rather than his writings. I’m guessing if I were a Byron fan that might annoy me, but as someone who isn’t invested, it was all fine. It starts with Byron traveling in Greece, enjoying the supposedly indolent lifestyle of “The East” and getting his Orientalism — and bisexuality — on (note, although he’s shown briefly kissing a man, his bisexuality is mostly referred to; I’m not sure if that’s straight-washing him, or if he really did focus on boys in early life and girls later in life? That’s what Wikipedia makes it sound like).
He comes back to England, publishes Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, and there’s some hilarious scenes where he consciously plays the melodramatic poet. He becomes involved with portrayed-as-crazytown Lady Caroline Lamb — who, I’m guessing, may not have been quite this bipolar? You tell me. (There was a great Noble Blood podcast episode about her recently, check it out if you’re interested!).
Most of the film focuses on his (supposed/possible) romantic relationship with his half-sister, Augusta Leigh, and his doomed marriage to Anne Isabella (“Annabella”) Milbanke, in which he’s basically a total jerk:
Then it’s on to Venice, ennui, and Greece where he dies — which was far too drawn out, in my opinion. I was perplexed that while the Shelleys briefly show up, there was NO trip to Switzerland/scary stories/Mary Shelley writing Frankenstein. Okay, so this is about Byron, not Mary Shelley, but he was there and part of that whole thing!
Now, on to the costumes, which were designed by the great Jenny Beavan (A Room With a View, Impromptu, Howards End, Jefferson in Paris, Sense and Sensibility, Ever After, Casanova, and so much more); she won the Costume Design (Drama) category at the Royal Television Society Craft and Design Awards for this production.
Byron himself is in pretty standard Regency wear. He starts out, while traveling, with long, shaggy hair:
Fast forward a few years, when he’s the toast of London. He crops his hair, and looks pretty spot-on to his portraits:
The only real costume highlight is when he dresses in what he says is an ensemble he brought back from Albania, which is clearly referencing his portrait by Thomas Phillips:
On to the women! Lady Caroline Lamb is pretty damn fabulous with her spiky cropped hair, totally perfect for the period and one of the better women’s “crop” hairstyles I’ve ever seen:
Half-sister/lover Augusta Leigh is played by Natasha Little, and she starts off all bubbly charm, but does a decent job showing her conflict and kindness. Her wardrobe is generally decent, but she wears her hair half-down a LOT, I think trying to show her approachable personality.
Wife Annabella is portrayed as intellectual, kind, prim, and totally wrong for Byron. Dress-wise, she’s ALWAYS dressed the proper picture of a good Regency girl:
Vanessa Redgrave plays Elizabeth Lamb, Viscountess Melbourne, who takes an interest in Byron (she has a GREAT line where, at their first tête-à-tête, he says something flirty about if she were younger; she responds with something like “If I were younger, dinner would have ended LONG ago”). She’s got a definite Orientalist vibe going:
Teresa, Contessa Guiccioli, Byron’s Italian lover, is very blond and pretty:
Mary Shelley is played by Sally Hawkins, and she gets one dowdy dress:
And, side note:
Have you seen Byron?