The Libertine (2004 film)  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
For other uses, see libertine.

The Libertine is a 2004 movie starring Johnny Depp, John Malkovich, Samantha Morton, and Rosamund Pike. It is directed by Laurence Dunmore (his debut film) from Stephen Jeffreys' adaptation of his play of the same name. Johnny Depp plays the main character, John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, a notorious rake and libertine poet in the court of King Charles II of England. Samantha Morton plays Elizabeth Barry, an actress who becomes brilliant when coached by Rochester, who is her lover. John Malkovich plays the King, who cares about John dearly, but cannot have him ruin his reputation as King. A prevalent aspect of the film is the use of sex as a form of common escapism. The film was rated R by the US MPAA. In the UK, it has been rated 18.

Lord Rochester's suspected bisexuality is only hinted at in most of the film (besides the prologue, in which he makes a fairly blunt warning to the audience that his sexual appetite extends further than heterosexual limitations). Tabloids had Johnny Depp (Rochester) sharing a steamy kiss with Rupert Friend (Downs), but their relationship has been reduced to two brief, ambiguous scenes.



In need of Rochester's writing skill, King Charles II (Malkovich) summons the Earl (Depp) back to London, retracting his earlier banishment. As in life, Rochester is shown carrying on with his friends, the Merry Gang, including George Etherege (Hollander) and Charles Sackville (Vegas). On his way back to the court, Rochester comes across a thief, Alcock (Coyle), and hires him as his gentleman on the spot. For one of his first social engagements in London, he takes in a play featuring Elizabeth Barry (Morton), who is booed off the stage and fired by the company. Rochester is taken with Barry and bets Etherege that he can make her a renowned actress in a year's time. As when Rochester met Barry in reality, he immediately begins to tutor her and they fall in love.

Meanwhile, Charles asks Rochester to write a great work about him, to bolster his legacy as king. Barry delivers a brilliant performance at her next play and Etherege pays off his debt to Rochester. The king pays Barry to spy on Rochester to keep track of his progress. Billy Downs (Friend) joins the Merry Gang, and becomes a close friend of Rochester's. Charles, in need of money from France, asks Rochester to write an extravagant play in honor of the French Ambassador's visit, hoping it will impress the Ambassador to lend his support. Instead, Rochester writes Sodom, which involves nude actors, phallic imagery, the distribution of ornate dildos, and a scathing criticism of the King, played by Rochester himself. Outraged, Charles interrupts the play and Rochester flees. Rochester continues to slide into debauchery, creating a skirmish outside a house of prostitution that leads to Downs' death.

For six months Rochester escapes the scrutiny of the King while suffering the effects of syphilis. Hiding in the English countryside under the pseudonym of Doctor Bendo with the help of Alcock and Jane, his concubine and confidant. Rochester conceals his facial gummata beneath a mask and peddles medical services. Eventually he is found, but instead of any capital punishment, the King decides a worse fate would be to ignore him, in his words, “condemning you to be you for the rest of your days”. He returns to his wife (Pike) and his home, where his mother convinces him to renounce his atheism and accept Christianity.

In the meantime, Charles' unpopular support of Roman Catholicism in England has led to his political beating in Parliament. He is unable to conceive any heirs with his wife, and so it is feared that his Catholic brother, James, Duke of York, will become king. Parliament introduced the Exclusion Bill to deny James the throne which seemed sure to pass by 15 votes. Rochester makes a dramatic entrance into Parliament, wearing a silver nosepiece and heavy pancake makeup to conceal the ravages of syphilis and hobbling on two canes, and eloquently denounces the Bill. As Rochester walks off, the subsequent vote kills the bill by over 40 votes. He goes to see Barry who reveals they had a daughter together, yet she rejects him. He returns to his home to his deathbed. Recalling fond memories, he dies with his wife, mother, and Alcock by his side.


Cast notes


The Libertine is the third release on Michael Nyman's own label, MN Records, and the first to receive distribution in the United States, by Inner Knot Records. It is his 50th album release overall. When Naxos Records began distributing MN Records in the United States in 2008, it was included and began appearing in large quantitites in stores. This is Nyman's last score for a major motion picture to date, and his last soundtrack release.

The score includes the song "If" (as "Rochester's farewell," with partially changed lyrics, removal of the quotes from "Time Lapse" from A Zed & Two Noughts, and the addition of a setting of the Kyrie) performed by Hilary Summers, who originally performed it in the film, The Diary of Anne Frank (1995). It also includes an abridgement by Jeffreys of one of Wilmot's most famous poems, "Signior Dildo", also sung by Ms. Summers. A recurring theme on the album which first appears in "Upon drinking in a bowl" for solo viola, became the basis of the Interlude in C for Accent007 ensemble. "The maimed debauchee" is a fairly brief piece, but resembles the Interlude at its climax. The theme reappears in a longer version as "Against constancy."

The album primarily follows the order of the film, but there are exceptions, including "My Lord all-pride," which immediately follows "Signior Dildo" in the film, as Wilmot steps out from curtains painted to resemble female genitalia.

Portions of the score appear in all-brass arrangements on the album, Nyman Brass.

Track listing

  1. History of the insipid
  2. Upon drinking in a bowl
  3. Impromptu on an English court
  4. Upon nothing
  5. The maimed debauchee
  6. The wish
  7. The submission
  8. A ramble in St. James's Park
  9. The mistress
  10. Signior dildo
  11. Against constancy
  12. My Lord all-pride
  13. The imperfect enjoyment
  14. A satire against reason
  15. Rochester's farewell
  16. A satire upon mankind
  17. Upon leaving his mistress


Michael Nyman Orchestra

Except Track 15, music by Michael Nyman, text by Stephen Jeffreys Published by Chester Music Ltd./Michael Nyman Ltd. 2005

Box office

The film has grossed a total of $4.8 million in the United States and $10.8 million worldwide


Tagline: He didn't resist temptation. He pursued it.

  • John Wilmot: "Life is not a succession of urgent nows. It is a listless trickle of why-should-I's."
  • John Wilmot: I have, I hold, a many reputations. I have come, I say, to train you.
  • John Wilmot: I cannot be equaled, let alone bettered.
  • John Wilmot: All men would be cowards if they only had the courage.


  • John Malkovich, who served as both actor and producer in the film, had appeared as the main character, Lord Rochester, in its first run on stage but had himself asked Johnny Depp to take the role in the movie version.

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