Fans of “Downton Abbey” and other British TV period dramas will probably enjoy the 2006 BBC dramatization of Ian Kelly’s biography of Regency era dandy and style setter Beau Brummell, available on DVD from Acorn Media.
Brummell was repulsed by the wigs and the powdered faces of the prominent men of his age — as well as their absence of daily washing — and after he became a friend of the Prince Regent, the man had a revolutionary impact on fashion (and hygiene).
Brummell’s adoption of a simpler and more “manly” way of dressing caught fire and soon there was a fashion war raging between Beau’s fellow “dandies” and the “fops” who didn’t want to let go of the old ways.
One of the wisest things director Philippa Lowthorpe did was to cast James Purefoy in the title role of “Beau Brummell: This Charming Man.”
The actor who was so memorable in the HBO “Rome” series is amusing and poignant as the style setter who didn’t realize until it was too late that nearly all of his social standing came as a result of his friendship with the Prince of Wales (played with great force and humor by Hugh Bonneville, below).
Like the Manhattan fashionistas of a decade ago — who maxed out their credit cards to retain their cutting edge style (and are still paying the price) — Brummell was terrible with money and was constantly hitting up rich friends for loans.
When he had cash, he blew it on clothes and gambling. Brummell was so charming that the people around him almost always said “yes” to whatever he wanted — as long as he offered access to one of the most powerful men in the country.
“Beau Brummell” explores the thinly veiled homosexual tension between Beau and the Prince and Lord Byron (Matthew Rhys, above). Brummell is clearly crazy about the charismatic poet — we see him taking part in a sexual three-way with Byron and a woman — and it starts to drive the Prince crazy.
Finally, Brummell’s royal patron cuts the dandy off totally and it is the beginning of the end.
Purefoy’s performance shifts from total charm and confidence to pure desperation as “Beau Brummell” becomes the tragedy of a man who couldn’t read the people around him as well as he thought he could.
The 90-minute BBC film has none of the stuffy feel of a “period piece” — the music and the cutting are very jazzy — so it is easy to see the parallels with our own now-vanished “Sex & the City” age of a decade ago.