Confession of a Child of the Century
Pete Doherty's acting derails this 19th century period drama
The former pop star and tabloid fixation Pete Doherty has always seemed like such an unstable, needy construction – a walking set of influences lacking the supporting structure of a personality – that it’s not impossible to see how he might have seemed like apt casting as a pointless fop trying to feel important in the showy tumult of post-revolutionary Paris. He fits the mood physically, too: that thing he has of looking like he’s gone directly from pubescence to the early stages of decomposition suits a character at once innocent and death-fixated.
Unfortunately, acting onscreen also requires Doherty to speak and move, and in these subtle arts he appears singularly unschooled. Previously filmed as Diane Kurys’s Children of the Century in 1999, Alfred de Musset’s 1836 memoir tells of his torrid affair with fellow author George Sand, played here by Charlotte Gainsbourg. Gainsbourg can do this sort of stuff – breathy assignations, writerly tantrums, stressful-looking sex – in her sleep; Doherty, by contrast, appears to actually be asleep, and his performance derails the whole endeavour. It doesn’t help that writer/director Sylvie Verheyde’s adaptation leans heavily on voiceover (often itself a sign of insecurity in a book-based film), leaving Doherty’s appalling delivery nowhere to hide. He has a genderless pipsqueak of a voice, and swallows lines in a manner that’s either studiedly throwaway and lazy, or just throwaway and lazy.
It can happen that a director not working in his or her first language is a bit deaf to poor verbal delivery; the brilliance of Verheyde’s previous film, 2008’s Stella, makes one loath to write her off. Production design – all inky shadows and tremulous candlelight – is appealing. But stunt casting has sunk this one, and Doherty should either shelve any remaining acting ambition, or invest some of his drug money in a lesson or two.
On selected release now.