Johnny Depp as The Libertine

Johnny Depp, as John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester, opens The Libertine with a prologue stating, "You will not like me... You will not like me now and you will like me a good deal less as we go on...I am John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester and I do not want you to like me." In deed, it is near impossible to like John Wilmot, especially as depicted in Stephen Jeffrey's screenplay.

Darling of the Restoration court of Charles II, Wilmot embraced atheism, alcohol, and any woman in arm's reach. Commanded by King Charles to write a play in praise of Charles' reign, Rochester composes a grand, pornographic homage to himself. Before his death from syphlis, Rochester enters the House of Lords, finally proclaiming his true homage to his king, helping to defeat an act of Parliament that would have disinherited Charles' son.

Wilmot is no hero; he is hardly an anti-hero. In fact, Rochester's ability to engender repugnance really begs the question why Hollywood felt the need for a biopic of one of the world's most loathsome human beings. There is one uplifting character in the movie, Wilmot's wife Elizabeth Malet. Even knowing about all of her husband's daliances, she still loves him. Rosamund Pike's loving portrayal of Malet's anger confrontation with her husband and then tenderly nursing him in his last days is an ode to love worthy of a romantic poet.

Depp's nuanced performance is another in a long line of dark and mysterious character studies. In the last couple of years, Depp has portrayed a pirate, a CIA agent, JM Barrie, and Willy Wonka, and the voice of a lovesick Victorian. Each was a unique character come alive with at least a dash of macbre creepiness that only Depp can provide.

The reason Wilomt has been remembered down through the years is his poetry. It was his writing that finally made him the darling of society after his early demise. Unfortunately, The Libertine never deals with the poetry but only with the pornography. Wilmot is considered by some to be the last of the great metaphysical poets, but others consider him to be a minor talent at best. I leave it for you to decide.

To His Mistress

Why dost thou shade thy lovely face? O why
Does that eclipsing hand of thine deny
The sunshine of the Sun's enlivening eye?

Without thy light what light remains in me?
Thou art my life; my way, my light's in thee;
I live, I move, and by thy beams I see.

Thou art my life-if thou but turn away
My life's a thousand deaths. Thou art my way-
Without.thee, Love, I travel not but stray.

My light thou art-without thy glorious sight
My eyes are darken'd with eternal night.
My Love, thou art my way, my life, my light.

Thou art my way; I wander if thou fly.
Thou art my light; if hid, how blind am I!
Thou art my life; if thou withdraw'st, I die.

My eyes are dark and blind, I cannot see:
To whom or whither should my darkness flee,
But to that light?-and who's that light but thee?

If I have lost my path, dear lover, say,
Shall I still wander in a doubtful way?
Love, shall a lamb of Israel's sheepfold stray?

My path is lost, my wandering steps do stray;
I cannot go, nor can I safely stay;
Whom should I seek but thee, my path, my way?

And yet thou turn'st thy face away and fly'st me!
And yet I sue for grace and thou deny'st me!
Speak, art thou angry, Love, or only try'st me?

Thou art the pilgrim's path, the blind man's eye,
The dead man's life. On thee my hopes rely:
If I but them remove, I surely die.

Dissolve thy sunbeams, close thy wings and stay!
See, see how I am blind, and dead, and stray!
-O thou art my life, my light, my way!

Then work thy will! If passion bid me flee,
My reason shall obey, my wings shall be
Stretch'd out no farther than from me to thee!