Basil

In these last few months, I’ve noticed that whenever I’ve tried to Google ‘Basil’s films’ or some other variant, I’ll usually end up looking at links to the 1998 Victorian drama film Basil, directed by Radha Bharadwaj. It seemed fitting that I should watch and review this very film for the website.

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The film is based on the book of the same name written in 1852 by the author Wilkie Collins. Basil (Jared Leto) comes from an upper class family, but his father, Frederick (Derek Jacobi) is a real douchebag. In the first section of the movie, we see how Frederick pours scorn on Basil’s actions as a child, disowns his brother as a son for making a pass at a girl of lower social class and cheats on his wife, who dies shortly afterwards.

At the age of twenty, Basil makes a new friend by the name of John Mannion (Christian Slater), who Basil confides in, saying that he’s never had any friends before. We realise that Basil has led a very sheltered life and is rather backward. He quickly becomes obsessed by a girl named Julia (Claire Forlani), and hastily rushes into a marriage with her, despite her obvious misgivings. In a moment of passion he offers her the mansion he will soon inherit. Nevertheless, he discovers John and Julia sleeping together, and the two engage in a street fight.

The damage is done, however. Frederick finds out about the unorthodox marriage, as well as Basil’s plans to give it away and disowns him too. After an unsuccessful go at trying to find employment – maybe we aren’t so different after all! – he goes to visit his long lost brother in Yorkshire. He discovers a letter from John, explaining all of his actions. It turns out that John’s father was turned down by Frederick years ago, which led to his suicide. John has since made it his purpose to exact revenge on Frederick, using Julia and Basil as tools in his scheme. A fantastic twist, I must admit.

Nevertheless, this is hardly what you’d call a quality movie. The acting is rather unconvincing, with actions and words seeming rather overdramatic. Try the above clip to see what I mean. The movie was first released on cable, with 4:3 aspect ratio and very fast scenes. Indeed, I can’t think of many scenes longer than three minutes. Not the most impressive visuals I’ve ever seen, but fairly consistent at least.

The characters aren’t all that likeable either, although I could just about bring myself to empathise with Basil, since his social awkwardness is a product of his father’s bad parenting. As the novel was written in the 19th Century, it is sadly the case that the women in this film are subject to abusive and disrespectful treatment. The two leading females, Clara (Carli Harris) and Julia play Basil’s mild-mannered friend and subversive love interest respectively, but beyond that they have no other personality aspects or deep thought. I like to think that Bharadwaj has invited us to look beyond the awful sexism of the time and try to enjoy the rest of the story. However, the following line is inexcusable: “She was nothing more to me than the boss’s spoiled daughter. Still, I was a man with a man’s appetites.” NineteenthCenturyLAD.

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So, Basil was an average film, but there are far better period pieces out there, with much better film adaptations. I personally felt quite awkward hearing my name – which I don’t hear that often, given to somebody else – roughly once or twice a minute. Onwards and upwards.

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