Poets and writers are generally not the most interesting of people to have a biopic made about. After all, the best biopics show the subject doing what they are the most famous for. Writing generally is a solitary act with the writer locking themselves away in a room staring at a pad and paper or a typewriter. Not the most exciting of topics. As I say this, many poets and writers led an extraordinary life that can be difficult to believe at times. British Poet Robert Graves is such a man. And The Laureate takes a look at a period of his life that is not only complex but difficult to comprehend as well.
To say war changes lives is putting it mildly. Robert Graves (Tom Hughes, A Discovery of Witches) returns from duty as a solider during World War I. And ever since that return, he feels the effects of shell-shock, and he’s not the same man he was before. The least of his problems is that he has a hard time being intimate with his wife Nancy Nicholson (Laura Haddock, The Capture).
Robert’s work as a writer isn’t exactly paying the bills either. But instead of taking a teaching position at a University he instead welcomes American author Laura Riding (Dianna Argon, Glee). He asks her to move in to be his writing collaborator and child’s tutor. Soon, both Robert and Nancy fall in love with Laura and start a Ménage à Trois relationship with her. This seems to solve at least some of their problems. When a fourth enters their trio however, things get even more complicated and threatens to shatter what little happiness they have.
The problem with The Laureate is that it takes a complicated story with complicated real life people and tries to make it simple. Of course part of that is due to time restrictions, and outside of a limited series, it could be hard to show everything that it needs to tell. It skims over things such as Graves being left for dead on the battlefield of WWI and his bisexuality in order for the entire story to be told.
What is shown, however, is fascinating. Hughes portrayal of a damaged man falling for an impossible dream is nothing short of brilliant. Argon’s leading role as the tempting vixen really makes you feel strong emotions towards her. It’s perhaps Haddock’s acting that is the strongest however. She draws you in and makes you feel for what she’s gone through and what she is going through. She’s the real star of the film.
The Laureate is a moody, period piece with solid acting that doesn’t flow as well as it should. It almost feels like it’s a recap instead of an entire film. It’s understandable that there might not have been enough meat to the story for a mini-series version. But a movie is too short to tell the entire story that it needs to tell.