Caravaggio (1986)

The most mainstream feature by experimental English director Derek Jarman, Caravaggio matches melodramatic speculations about the Renaissance artist’s life with painterly beauty.

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Introduction

“By the standards normal in British cinema, Caravaggio is an enterprise of extraordinary daring and resonance.”
John Russell Taylor, Sight & Sound, 1986

From his deathbed in 1610, Caravaggio (Nigel Terry) looks back over his turbulent triangular relationship with two of the models for his religious paintings, street thug Ranuccio (Sean Bean) and Ranuccio’s mistress Lena (Tilda Swinton). Though the film was shot in a studio in Limehouse, Derek Jarman’s use of light and sound help conjure an authentically Italian mood, with the atmosphere deliberately punctured by anachronisms such as a pocket calculator and Ranuccio’s motorbike.

While Jarman continued to work on the margins of the British film industry until his death at 52 in 1994, this low-budget production launched the film careers of Swinton, Bean, costume designer Sandy Powell and cinematographer Gabriel Beristain, all of whom became Hollywood regulars.

After giving Tilda Swinton her first film role in Caravaggio, Jarman cast the actress in all six of his subsequent features, notably Edward II (1991).

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