In the golden age of Hollywood, this sort of marching-forward-with-hearty-smiles cast photo was called a “happy family” shot. Happy is certainly true of the early years of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, at least as portrayed in the gorgeous BBC miniseries Desperate Romantics. Too steamy for Masterpiece Theatre, and too short for BBC America, this popular drama is making its debut on DVD later this year.
Our “happy family” (above) is a quartet of rising stars. Samuel Barnett (far left, also seen in The History Boys and Beautiful People) plays John Millais, child prodigy who enrolled at the Royal Academy of Art at eleven. At 21 Millais produced the most famous Pre-Raphaelite painting Ophelia. Sam Crane (second from left) plays Fred Walters, a composite of several PRB hangers-on, including Walter Deverill, who discovered Lizzie Siddall (the Pre-Raph’s It Girl) while shopping for hats with his mother. Crane will appear in this year’s telefilm of Murder on the Orient Express. Aidan Turner (second from right) has already won a number of fans as a sympathetic vampire in Being Human. He plays Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who pursued painting and poetry with the same restlessness that characterized his love life. On the far right is Rafe Spall as the fiercely earnest William Holman Hunt, known to his friends as “Mad” or “Maniac.”
The rising young talent doesn’t stop at the photo’s edge. Tom Hollander (Wives & Daughters, Cambridge Spies) appears as John Ruskin, whose critical approval was crucial to their success. His long-suffering wife Effie is played by Zoe Tapper, who has featured in BBC America’s Supernatural Saturday hits Demons and Survivors. Also joining Supernatural Saturdays (and Aiden Turner) is that It Girl girl we spoke of above. Amy Manson will join the cast of Being Human for its second season.
It’s pretty rare to see the Pre-Raphaelites on TV like this, although if you don’t mind spoilers you can check out Ken Russell’s provocative treatment of their lives in Dante’s Inferno in Ken Russell at the BBC. And personally, we wish they would make a second series so some of the later lights of the movement like Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris would get their due.