Derek Jarmam struggled for seven years to bring his portrait of the seventeenth-century Italian artist Michelangelo de Caravaggio to the screen. The result was well worth the wait, and was greeted with critical acclaim: a freely dramatised portrait of the controversial artist and a powerful mediation on sexuality, criminality and art - a new refreshing take on the usual biopic.
The film centres on an imagined love-triangle between Caravaggio, his friend and model Ranuccio, and Ranuccio's low-life partner Lena. Conjuring some of the artist's most famous paintings through elaborate and beautifully photographed tableaux vivants, those works are woven into the fabric of the story, providing a starting point for its characters and narrative episodes.
Caravaggio features wonderful performances from Nigel Terry, Sean Bean, and, in her first role, Tilda Swinton, who was to become Jarman's muse and long-time collaborator. A visual treat, it was the first major film production for award-winning costume designer Sandy Powell, with luscious production design by Christopher Hobbs.
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