In an attempt to improve Anglo-French relations, King Charles II (Malkovich) employs the dashing cad and talented playwright John Wilmot (Depp) to write a play that will look favourably on his reign. Not the easiest person to get along with, Wilmot spends more time in the pub and whorehouses dotted around London than he does at his desk. When he finally settles down to write, a defiant young actress (Morton) distracts him from his quill as he believes that she will one day be a huge star. The Libertine is adapted from the Stephen Jeffery play that trails Wilmot in his run-up to his opus The Quintessence of Debauchery. With Dunmore's opening shot of Wilmot's honest soliloquy spoken directly to camera, he makes it apparent that this was once a play and, like a bad play, what follows is a series of overlong scenes. In an attempt to avoid any stage direction, Dunmore uses what is only possible in cinema - intimate close-ups. These are used to suggest simmering sexual tensions among the protagonists but the sexual friction is lost.
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