Genius Period Drama Review
Genius, a new and underappreciated period drama, came out so quietly that you may not even know of its existence. And with a stellar A-list cast like Colin Firth, Jude Law, and Nicole Kidman (yes, Inman and Ada are reunited onscreen!), one has to wonder why Genius went so far under the radar. Too literary? Too poetic? Were the powerful performances just not enough? Whatever the case, Genius is now available digitally and on DVD and worth the time of period drama lovers everywhere.
Genius follows the infamous friendship between Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins (Colin Firth) and the eccentric novelist, Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law). It is 1929 and not one publishing company wants anything to do with Wolfe’s extremely lengthy novel. Then it lands on the desk of the talented editor, Max Perkins, the same editor responsible for F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway.
Immediately, Maxwell Perkins feels drawn to the lyrical and poetic words of Thomas Wolfe. While the book needs major editing, he sees the genius in the words. So, he calls Wolfe in for a meeting. And out of curiosity, Thomas Wolfe attends (though he was very much expecting another rejection). Instead of rejection, however, a close partnership between editor and writer begins, one that over time feels more like father and son. Soon, the two begin editing Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel and later, Of Time and the River.
Maxwell Perkins, a father of all girls and a devoted husband, is a family man, making a stark contrast to the wild (also a little narcissistic) Thomas Wolfe, but Perkins still can’t help but be drawn into his world. Wolfe writes with a fervor and passion, the words just flowing out of him as if on fire. But as words come out in the thousands, the editing process of cutting his novels down to appropriate lengths creates tension between the two men. Wolfe feels that every word is important while Perkins believes that Wolfe needs to be more concise. With differing opinions, the two men share some amazing and literary conversations. The dialogue becomes poetic like the classic American novelists of this time.
Every line is purposeful and lyrically beautiful, and while not a fast-moving film (perhaps a detriment to some filmgoers), the performances of the actors and the deep characterization of the main characters are fascinating. For those who love classic literature or even just Colin Firth, Jude Law, or Nicole Kidman, Genius will not be a waste of your time.
However, if you’re looking for a romantic period drama, I wouldn’t go in expecting much. This is about male friendship (from beginning to tragic end). Sure, Colin Firth has a wonderful relationship with his wife played by Laura Linney but that doesn’t account for any sort of romance.
And as for the Jude Law and Nicole Kidman reunion, you will, at the very least, be happy that the chemistry remains just as palpable as ever. Still, the love story between Wolfe and much older Aline Bernstein isn’t exactly romantic (just look up their history) as it is much more toxic than anything else. Despite all that, the relationship and performances by Law and Kidman are so fabulous that you don’t really care that there is a lack of romance in Genius. It’s just so unnecessary. This is also a true story after all.
Overall, the stylistic flow from the director, the poetic dialogue from screenwriter John Logan (the creator of Penny Dreadful and screenwriter of The Aviator), and fantastic performances from some of the best actors out there make Genius a must-see film. While relatively ignored, this top-notch film should be one you add to your watchlist.
Content Note: Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, mild language, and suggestive content.
Where to Watch: Genius is available to rent on Digital or buy on DVD. You can also stream on HBO, and Amazon Video (through the HBO channel).
Photos by Marc Brenner/ Pinewood Films
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