John Maybury’s 1998 film about the relationship between painter Francis Bacon (Derek Jacobi) and his lover George Dyer (Daniel Craig) gets an HD upgrade from the British Film Institute with this Blu-ray release. The movie focuses on one period of Bacon’s life in the 1960s, when Bacon was already a lauded artist, considered by many as the greatest living British painter.
Bacon wakes up one night to find small-time thief George Dyer robbing his apartment/studio. Instead of calling police, Bacon invites Dyer into his bed. The thief accepts, which marks the start of an intense relationship between the two – one of whom is a rarefied figure in the world of art, while the other is a working class criminal. Initially their mismatched social status doesn’t matter, partly as their sexuality and attitudes means both feel like outsiders, but soon cracks begin to show.
Bacon is fascinated by George and starts to paint a series of images of his lover. He also enjoys their passionate physicality, where George is the strong dominant to Francis’ submissive. George thinks he’s on to a good thing, with Francis offering him possible access to a new world. However, problems quickly begin to mount, with Bacon loving George as an artistic subject but finding it increasingly difficult to deal with him as a human being. As George increasingly spirals out of control and takes more and more drugs, Bacon begins to see him as an irritation and not as someone he ought to actively help.
Initially with Love Is The Devil, there’s a sensation that this is going to be the sort of arty movie that’s more interested in itself than communicating with the audience. However, it soon becomes clear what it’s doing, with Maybury attempting to capture the skewed perspective and fascination with the body of Bacon’s paintings. Likewise, the artistic vignettes that initially feel a little random increasingly take you into Bacon’s rather egocentric, detached view of the world, where the fact he looks at everything as a subject means he has difficulty showing true empathy. Similarly, it helps show George’s descent, as his world becomes increasingly unmoored with no one to help him.
The performances are great, with Derek Jacobi bringing Bacon to life so that you still want to watch him even when the character is being slightly monstrous and unthinking. This was Daniel Craig before anyone really knew what a Daniel Craig was, as while he’d had success on TV in Our Friends In The North, this was his first proper feature film. Even here he shows why he’s become an international movie star, showing absolute commitment and humanity as George, being especially effective at the point Dyer knows he’s on the edge of the abyss and is emotionally crying out for love and help.
The film also successfully manages to evoke a time when homosexuality was being decriminalised, but society wasn’t fully ready to accept it, with Bacon’s ‘friends’ (and the inverted commas are deliberate, as you wonder how many of these people are real friends) being a mix of those who are also gay and those who still can’t quite accept that part of his life. It’s a film that was obviously made for very little money, but you only begin to realise that as it goes along, as it does an impressive job of looking bigger and more expansive than it actually is in terms of location and setting.
You’ll also be pleased to hear that it looks pretty good on Blu-ray. It may not have the crispness and colour of modern blockbusters, but it’s a crisp and good looking presentation. With some good extras that give interesting insight into the film, it’s worth a look.
Overall Verdict: 17 years on, Love Is The Devil is still a fascinating look at both sexuality in the 1960s and the relationship between an artist and his subject – something that from the outside may seem very intimate, but which may be more detached and observed than it appears.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac