If the synopsis seems vaguely familiar it is because BEAUTIFUL DEVILS is a contemporary adaptation of William Shakespeare's OTHELLO, as directed by James Marquand - the son of director Richard Marquand (director of RETURN OF THE JEDI and JAGGED EDGE) - and I have to confess that I struggle with Shakespeare. Fortunately, for me, in this instance the classic Shakespearian language is ignored and the emphasis is placed on adapting the story-arc into a relevant present-day environment. The result is unexpected.
Marquand has crafted a surprisingly effective drama that boasts an impressive production design, as well as sound design, which accompanies his strong ensemble of performers. The modern London setting lends the story an urban grunge aesthetic, as the cinematography captures the energy of the city's music culture in a raw and stylised way. Add the reliable story of OTHELLO at the heart of the film and there's no doubt that BEAUTIFUL DEVILS delivers a product that's far more impressive than it's modest budget ought to offer.
The cast features a company of seasoned performers, each of whom have extensive film & television credits to their name. They include Osy Ikhile (THE LEGEND OF TARZA, IN THE HEART OF THE SEA), Rachel Hurd-Wood (DORIAN GRAY, PERFUME), Steven Waddington (THE TUDORS, THE IMMITATION GAME) and Iain Glen (GAME OF THRONES, EYE IN THE SKY). Ikhile and Hurd-Wood are particularly impressive as the lovers whose lives are infected by a manipulative and jealous foe. Their on-screen presence is strong and their dynamic is tangible, and they handle the dramatic escalation brilliantly. Ikhile's descent into madness is very effective indeed.
The performance, however, that stands apart from the rest and deserves a mention of its own, belongs to Elliot James Langridge as the treacherous Ivan. His performance is both understated and audacious, and with his “evil” switched on from the very first act, he delivers every moment of maleficence with relish. While his credentials aren't as extensive as his fellow cast mates he compensates with a show-stealing performance that is horrifying to watch and earns him a rightful place at the table of classic evil motherfuckers!
I am always reluctant to draw attention to the flaws of low-budget independent films, as I feel it's more important to focus on the positives while respecting the confines and restraints that the filmmakers are dealt with. Nevertheless BEAUTIFUL DEVILS is bookended with an unnecessary scene featuring Ivan in an interrogation room. It's a pointless and miscalculated indulgence that tries to give Ivan a 'Norman Bates' air of badness where it's not warranted. He is also given a cringe-worthy throwaway line at the end that strives to cap the film off with an important social commentary, but ultimately fails to hold weight. Should the powers that be decide to remove this scene they would be doing their film a huge service. The story is powerful enough without it.
James Marquand's BEAUTIFUL DEVILS is a provocative reimagining of a classic narrative that uses it's contemporary landscape with dramatic effect and delivers a strong character-driven story. With an energetic rock n' roll soundtrack and a bang-for-buck production value, it is sure to impress its unsuspecting audience.