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The Devil's Whore (DVD)

Review by Lizzie Guilfoyle

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

THE Devil’s Whore, a four-part drama set against the backdrop of the English Civil War, follows the trials and tribulations of Angelica Fanshawe (Andrea Riseborough) as she exploits a country in crisis in a bid to better her own position.

Following the execution of her first husband, Angelica abandons her loyalties to the Royal family and leaves the court of Charles I (Peter Capaldi). Destitute, she turns to prostitution, armed robbery and even murder. But it’s during this time that she meets soldier of fortune Edward Sexby (John Simm) who, in falling in love with her, becomes her guardian angel.

Angelica however, has eyes only for heroic revolutionary Thomas Rainsborough (Michael Fassbender) whom she wastes no time in marrying. Yet all too soon widowhood beckons, though not before Angelica has befriended Oliver Cromwell (Dominic West). As he begins his reign over England, she becomes his confidante and, despite not loving him, takes Sexby as her third husband.

The Devil’s Whore is based on the true story of Lady Fanshawe who wrote her life story in 1676 and, in a potent mix of fact and fiction, recreates a period in English history that is often neglected by writers and film makers alike. Sadly for historians, a number of liberties have been taken with the facts (some may call it artistic licence?) but the result is nonetheless riveting. However, for those of you like me who hated history, the inevitable who’s who of 17th century England may initially be confusing.

Riseborough is superb. In her hands, Angelica is spirited and apathetic in turn, the latter never more so than when faced with death by hanging, a scene that is cleverly intercut with the king’s execution. But more of that later. Riseborough’s over-riding quality, however, is her ability to endow Angelica with overt sexuality. Yet her love scene with Sexby – when it finally comes (no pun intended!) – is tender and strangely touching.

Capaldi also excels as the doomed king. Imperious to the end, he not only brings dignity to the scaffold but an almost tangible fear – all the more commendable as it’s conveyed, not by words, but by expression and the visible trembling of his hands as he loosens the ties at his neck.

West, however, is never truly convincing as Cromwell – a man who dared to execute a king, was ruthless in battle and imposed his iron will upon the people of England – although this has more to with a script that portrays him in a more kindly light, particularly in his dealings with Angelica, than West’s interpretation. Moreover, and I’ve done my homework, Cromwell wasn’t remotely handsome, so despite his ‘warts and all’ appearance, West’s good looks work very much against him. A pity…

Simm’s Sexby takes mean and moody to new heights (did the man ever smile?) and he’s an unlikely hero. Nevertheless, Simm aquits himself well as a man tortured by his love for Angelica and ultimately his failure to rid England of Cromwell. So although he can certainly buckle and swash along with the best of them, there’s an underlying vulnerabilty to his character that, in spite of a decidedly ruthless streak, gives him an endearing quality.

There are also good supporting performances from John Goodman-Hill as honest John Lilburne and Maxine Peake as his devoted wife Elizabeth.

The Devil’s Whore, by Peter Flanner, the Bafta Award-winning writer of the critically acclaimed Our Friends in the North, is a lavish £8 million production that was ten years in the making. With realistic and bloody battle scenes, bed and bawd aplenty and an intelligent and intriguing storyline, it’s a costume drama that dares to be different. It’s also very good.

Certificate: 15
UK DVD Release: March 16, 2009