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Robert Graves on film: “He is a fine enough writer to rise above any scandal”

By Harriet Staff

The Telegraph reports on the film The Laureate about Robert Graves’ private life, set to begin filming later this year with Orlando Bloom in the title role. Though Roya Nikkhah describes the movie as setting out to “challenge that legacy, depicting Graves as a sexually adventurous bohemian embroiled in scandal,” no one with a stake in the film or in Graves’ legacy itself seems particularly concerned.

Set in Oxford and London in the 1920s, the film will focus on the writer’s colourful private life, which saw him live in a ménage à trois with his first wife, the artist Nancy Nicholson and their four children, and his mistress, the American poet Laura Riding, as he struggled to make a living as a writer.

It will depict the group sharing a house in Hammersmith’s St Peter’s Square, then the bohemian capital of London known as “free love corner”, where Graves, Nicholson and Riding were joined by the Irish poet, Geoffrey Phibbs.

If anything, Graves’ family, biographers, and the filmmakers themselves believe that the “racy” and “provocative” nature of the story will add nuance to appreciating his work, filling in gaps in his life that challenge instead the prevailing dry narrative of his career. “People really only know two versions of Robert Graves – the young war poet and the mad old man on an island,” according to biographer Miranda Seymour.

William Graves, one of Graves’ four children by his second wife, Beryl, and the executor of his estate, said: “While Robert had a rather puritanical and Victorian approach to his work, his life was fascinating and complicated during that period.

“I don’t think there was an open, four-way relationship between them all, but then who was in bed with who is historically very difficult to check and I’m sure the filmmakers will use dramatic license.

“Many people remember Robert from his long period of decline towards the end of his life when he was going senile, so I hope this film might renew interest in his vast achievements before.”

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Posted in Poetry News on Monday, February 14th, 2011 by Harriet Staff.