Peaches are in season, so naturally our minds turn towards the poetry of T. S. Eliot.
I’ve been pondering the film Tom and Viv, a very convincing 1994 art film about young T. S. Eliot and his troubled marriage. A shy but ambitious American visiting England, Eliot fell in love with Vivian Haigh-Wood, a tempestuous woman whose upper-class British style and ribald sense of humor fascinated him. They married impulsively, then discovered they did not get along at all. The bad marriage lasted for many years, and in fact seems to have inspired many parts of Eliot’s poetry. Sexual and interpersonal anxiety is central to most of his work; it is fascinating to realize that in real life T. S. Eliot did dare to eat a peach, and perhaps too impulsively at that.
In the film, Eliot is played by Willem Defoe, and I think he does a great job. I don’t usually like Defoe — I thought he was badly miscast as Jesus in The Last Temptation of Christ (Willem Defoe does not look Jewish), and in Wild At Heart I thought he was just plain weird. But he was born to play T. S. Eliot, sallow skin, cautious diction and all.
Miranda Richardson is just as good as Vivian, who you feel both sorry for and angry at in this film. The movie is also an interesting tableau of Jazz Age London; we see Vivian Eliot having a meaningless affair with Bertrand Russell, then getting into a catfight with a group of women including the haughty Virginia Woolf.
Overall, I thought this was one of the best literary biographies I’d ever seen on film. I’d like to know what you thought of it — have you seen it?