Review: ‘The Laureate’

A Beautiful And Hazy Art Deco Romance Drama Right Out Of The Roaring Twenties

A Laureate is a person who is honored with an award for outstanding creative or intellectual achievement and this film, which is written and directed by William Nunez, is riddled with them. The Laureate features (and name drops) highly recognized to sought after writers and poets during the boom of the Roaring Twenties such as T.S. Eliot (Christien Anholt), Siegfried Sassoon (Timothy Renouf), and Virginia Woolf. This biographical romantic drama gives a wonderful visionary perspective to the emotional roller-coaster of a married couple on the brink of disillusion. The film is based on the real life story of British novelist and poet Robert Graves (Tom Hughes) who wrote the well renowned classics of “I, Claudius” and “Goodbye to All That” and the collapse of his relationship with wife and partner, illustrator/painter, and pro-feminist Nancy Nicholson (Laura Haddock).

Robert Graves (Hughes) suffers from extreme PTSD after barely surviving World War I. Flashbacks dance inside his head of the traumatic memories he endured during the war and is the reason for his severe writer’s block. Even his writer colleagues have deemed his ‘pen of drying up’ and any thoughts of future work were not to be expected. Feeling the weight of his problems and pressure from all around him, Graves turns to reading other current works of literature and poetry for inspiration. One poem in particular resonates with him the most and he feels compelled to get in touch with the author who hopes for a collaboration. With permission and support from his wife Nancy (Haddock) they invite American up and comer Laura Riding (Dianna Agron) to live with them at their English cottage dubbed ‘Worlds End’.  Riding successfully unblocks Graves’ state of mind and between the three, are able to produce some beautiful pieces of work. However, it’s not long before the artistic trio become entangled in physical and emotional affairs that also rope in a young Irish poet, Geoffrey Phibbs (Fa Fee) which eventually spirals out of control.

The Laureate is very reminiscent of the literary work/words of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby”. Fragmented portions of the tumultuous interconnected foursome further remind me of accounts and circumstances featured in stories of one my personal favorite authors, also from their ‘New/Progressive Era’ timeline, Agatha Christie. The chemistry between them all is incredible and I truly felt bad for them all. The Twenties was a time of monetary and party bliss but mental torment, confusion, deceit, and heated indiscretions are a common occurrence post WWI which, imo, seems to be the inspirational muse for these notable writers of this era. The film is a beautiful and hazy display of Art Deco designs that includes detailed architecture, costumes, hair/make-up, and tones that match perfectly to the time period. Dianna Agron is phenomenal! I loved her as Quinn Fabray in Glee and although she’s had some other and OK roles since, this one has been my absolute favorite. She truly embraces Laura Riding as a dominate and controlling woman who seeks equal respect to her male counterpart authors but is lost in a world created just for her that’s inside her own head. Although a bit slow and is a romantic drama – period piece that is of an acquired taste, I highly recommend checking out this film.

The Laureate is in theaters and VOD now.