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‘Edward II’

By Joe Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 10, 1992


Derek Jarman
Steven Waddington;
Andrew Tiernan;
Tilda Swinton;
Nigel Terry
Under 17 restricted

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With "The Silence of the Lambs" sweeping the Academy Awards, and the nation happily lapping up gory gangster flicks, it appears that no cinematic shocks remain. But there is one movie image that can still make audiences squirm: The sight (the very thought!) of two men kissing.

Of course, this queer state of affairs has been around since long before the movies, as British director Derek Jarman's passionate, angry film "Edward II" points out. Make that screams.

It's a stylishly austere adaptation of Christopher Marlowe's rarely performed play about newly crowned King Edward, assassinated by a conspiracy of his spurned queen, court and clergy, who were all enraged by Edward's open devotion to his male lover Gaveston. Jarman keeps the Shakespearean-era speech and setting, but finds striking ways to make distinct 20th-century parallels about sex and power, homophobia and gay activism.

As King Edward and his lower-class favorite Piers Gaveston, Steve Waddington and Andrew Tiernan radiate heat and joy, and while Jarman emphasizes their love story and means for us to see their plight as tragic, he doesn't canonize them -- they are reckless and even vengeful in their obsessive love. Tilda Swinton has an imperially icy hauteur as Queen Isabella, whose clothing and jewelry become more opulent as her rage turns her into a murderous Tory monster.

Jarman keeps the story streamlined and potently clear while retaining Marlowe's poetic period language. And, as always, he scatters witty anachronisms: the sight of Isabella's Hermes gowns and the king's brother's business suits; pop singer Annie Lennox crooning Cole Porter's "Every Time We Say Goodbye" during Edward and Gaveston's last dance; and the ACT UP-style demonstration for Edward (actually members of England's OutRage gay activists).

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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