“I feel a trip to the tailors coming on.”
Beau Brummell: This Charming Man is a British made-for-television film that takes a light-hearted approach and a superficial look at the man who personified an age and its fashion trends.
Beau Brummell (1778-1840) is one of those historical personages who engineered a certain amount of fame without really ever doing that much to merit it. And perhaps that’s why the film, while enjoyable, is problematic. When the film begins, Beau Brummell (James Purefoy) is at the height of his powers and influence over a portly, middle-aged Prince Regent (Hugh Bonneville). Harassed by bill collectors, Beau Brummell, lives a lifestyle he cannot afford, but as favorite of the Prince Regent, he manipulates tradesmen to extend credit through his influence with the heir to the British throne.
Called to entertain and amuse the Prince Regent in the middle of the night, Brummell allows his position as favorite to go to his head, and suggestions for dress eventually drift into slights and insults. Someone really should have explained to Brummell that royals are notoriously fickle, and that the favorite today, is ignored and shunned tomorrow.
Unfortunately the film doesn’t explore Brummell’s early life, or his final years (he died abroad at the age of 61 of syphilis). Instead the film chooses to present Brummell at the height of his influence–a fashion trendsetter who made the wigs, powder and perfumery of foppery outmoded with his plain style, fancy cravats, thigh gripping trousers, and his insistence on personal cleanliness.
The most interesting aspect of this film, directed by Philippa Lowthorpe is its presentation of the relationships in Brummell’s life: his friendship with the unpopular Byron (Matthew Rhys) and his relationship with his manservant/accomplice, Robinson (Philip Davis). There are several scenes when the Prince Regent, Beau Brummell and Lord Byron all call each other by their first names–George, and this indicates an egalitarianism that existed somewhat briefly between this incongruous trio. Similarly, Brummell makes the unprecedented move of treating his servant as his confidante and equal, unfortunately that same approach of treating the Prince Regent as a chum backfires… disastrously.
As a fashion trendsetter who created “Dandyism” and who took 5 hours each morning to dress, Brummell overturned the notion of the aristocracy setting style, and while he maintained his lifestyle at the expense of the plebs, he did displace the Royals in setting new trends. And perhaps that was unforgivable….
The film is created with more than a dash of modernism, and that may disappoint purists. There’s one scene when Byron tries to unsuccessfully wrestle his way through retainers shouting about how “machines have replaced men,” and the BBC promoted the film with the idea that Brummell was the first “metrosexual.” Some more details on the life of Brummell would have been most welcome.