Biopics are hard to pull off but often the best are ones that don’t get full cooperation from the person’s estate so the filmmakers have to be more inventive than the birth to death narrative so many follow. Love is the Devil is a classic example of what you can do with a biopic that in some ways get more to the core of the subject than the usual approach. John Maybury wasn’t given the rights to use Francis Bacon’s paintings so instead he shoot large segments that have the look of his grotesque but always oddly beautiful paintings. It’s biopic as surrealist horror cinema.
Actors may play famous people all the time but rarely has an actor been more perfectly cast then Derek Jacobi as Bacon. They have a striking similarity in appearance but he is an openly gay man (Bacon was as well) and he perfectly captures Bacon’s mannerisms down to a t. Daniel Craig plays George Dyer who attempts to rob Bacon but he offers him to take anything if they sleep together and it soon blossoms the most intense relationship of Bacon’s life and inspired much of his most famous work. Tilda Swinton also appears as Muriel Belcher who ran the infamous Colony Room Hotel which Bacon and other link minded artists, musicians and actors frequented.
This was John Maybury’s debut feature but he had directed lots of music videos including ones for The Jesus & Mary Chain and The Smiths back in the late 80s along with the star making video of Nothing Compares 2 U for Sinead O’Connor. His debut feature is assured and due to his video work he certainly perfected his visual technique. The set design even morphs into one impressions of Bacon’s work a few times, it’s a real tour de force in visual terms and the performances compliment the imagery especially given it’s basically a glorified TV movie. Maybury’s next film was the equally interesting The Jacket (even if it was a rip-off of Jacob’s Ladder) and his most recent feature was The Edge of Love in 2008 a biopic of Dylan Thomas.
BFI had previously released Love is the Devil on DVD but have decided to upgrade it during their LOVE strand. The main features are a commentary by Maybury and Jacobi along with interviews with the producers and an extended teaser for a documentary on The Colony. It also has a booklet with essays on the film which is typical of BFI’s homo video releases.