Pete Doherty is a really, really bad actor

The former Libertine isn't very good at playing a libertine.

Witness the trailer for Pete Doherty's debut film role, in which the ex-Libertine mumbles his way through his lines with the grace of a gawky sixth former desperately reciting some half-learned poetry to an uninterested crush:

Notice too how little the trailer shows of Doherty actually acting. There's a reason for this, apparently. As the Guardian's Catherine Shoard writes:

His performance as a shambling yet sensitive libertine (geddit?) in Sylvie Verheyde's adaptation of the Alfred de Musset novel is catastrophic. Still, that does mean it's tonally of a piece with the rest of the film.

Or the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw (yes, the film is so bad they gave it two one-star reviews):

It's not exactly like seeing a dog walk on its hind legs. It's more like seeing one of those dogs on the TV show That's Life! that could say "sausages". Only instead of saying "sausages", it's saying, "You understand, madam, that I am the greatest libertine in all Paris!" while wearing a top hat.

The Telegraph's Robbie Collin is kinder. To the film, at least:

How much damage can one man’s performance wreak on an otherwise serviceable film? When the film is this adaptation of Alfred de Musset’s semi-fictionalised memoir, and the man is Pete Doherty, the answer could be measured on the Richter scale.

The Hollywood Reporter's Megan Lehmann:

The role of a beautiful and damned 19th century libertine sounds like a perfect fit for disheveled English rock poet Pete Doherty, but then there’s the little matter of being able to act. 

Based on his debut performance in Sylvie Verheyde’s Cannes Un Certain Regard entry, Confessions of a Child of the Century, an intolerably dull adaptation of French romanticist Alfred de Musset’s 1830s novel of debauchery and despair, the Libertines and Babyshambles singer shouldn’t even think of giving up his day job.

Total Film's James Mottram:

It must have seemed like a good idea at the time, casting the former Libertines frontman as Octave, the debauched Parisian, but the novelty soon wears off. Suffocated by Sylvie Verheyde’s lifeless direction, Doherty’s so ill at ease you’d think his britches were too tight.

At this point, I started feeling bad for Doherty, so I tried to track down a good write-up. I couldn't. The film is currently 0 per cent "fresh" on Rotten Tomatoes. Maybe steer clear of this one.

Pete Doherty and Charlotte Gainsbourg in Confessions of a Child of the Century.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The End We Start From imagines London underwater

Megan Hunter's fictional apocalypse is a tender one. 

It is six months after the flood. The nameless narrator of The End We Start From is a new mother and a refugee, and by the midpoint of the novel we have followed her and her baby from the “Gulp Zone”, where their London flat was swallowed, to a safe house that proved to be not safe enough, and then refugee camps, every move stripping life a little closer to the essentials. First what can be fitted in a car as you flee to safety, then what can be carried in your arms; first porridge, then only gruel.

Halfway through, the narrator and her baby make it to an island under the guidance of another new mother she befriended in the camps. Here, a family has established a small life of plenty. The narrator has left behind a “place of not-enough”, but here there is food to spare. Seeds grow into vegetables. The baby “likes to eat butter in chunks”. But where has the butter come from? There’s no mention of cattle on the island, no bucolic descriptions of churning. We’re told there is no electricity. So how do they have butter and why is it not rancid?

It’s a small thing, but an outsize irritant in a book whose prose is pared back to match the minimal existence it describes. Every detail feels weighted with significance because it was chosen over something else. Megan Hunter is a poet (this is her first novel), and her poetic instincts are underlined by the TS Eliot-referencing title, borrowed from Four Quartets: “What we call the beginning is often the end / And to make an end is to make a beginning. / The end is where we start from.”

Apocalypse and rebirth are central to Hunter’s story. Butter aside, it invokes a thoroughly plausible end of the world. Like Emily St John Mandel’s luminous Station Eleven, or Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy, you read it with the conviction that this is what it would be like. (These stories are told from the perspective of the resourceful fortunates who make it through. Apocalypse literature kindly dodges the reality that, if it came to it, most of us would die whimpering in a dirt hole.)

But realism is not the only dictate here. The End We Start From is also deeply invested with symbolism. It begins with the narrator going into labour: “Finally I am waterless, the pool of myself spreading slowly past my toes.” Maternity is a kind of apocalypse, an end to being one kind of self who lives one kind of life, and the beginning of another. Names, like everything else here, are cut back to the barest essentials, becoming just initials. The narrator’s husband is R, her in-laws are N and G, and her baby Z – an alphabetical end who is at the beginning of his life. Anyone who has welcomed the catastrophe of a newborn into their lives is likely to feel sympathy for this parallelbetween infant and Armageddon.

There is a cost to the allegory, though, and it comes through in moments when Hunter sacrifices the merciless logic of calculating survival in favour of giving play to her metaphor. Milk is, as it would be for a new mother, a theme. The milk in the narrator’s breasts that keeps her baby alive becomes an analogue for all sustenance: “As for food, I have started to think of it all as milk,” she says. “I wonder how long we would survive, how quickly human milk runs out in famine.” Perhaps it’s inevitable, then, that the unexpected gift of security and nourishment the narrator and Z find on the island should be represented through dairy; but it also punctures a world you could otherwise believe in utterly.

Hunter’s apocalypse is a tender one. There is violence and disorder at the start: one of the most affecting uses of Hunter’s spare style is when the narrator’s mother-in-law fails to return from a brutal trip to gather provisions, and the narrator simply announces: “No G.” But while R chooses isolation and suspicion of others, leaving his wife and child to make his own way, the narrator chooses humanity. She tells us how she “falls in love”, deep and quick, with those with whom she forms alliances. To borrow again from Four Quartets, “The houses are all gone under the sea” – but The End We Start From promises the possibility of life afterwards. 

The End We Start From
Megan Hunter
Picador, 127pp, £9.99

Sarah Ditum is a journalist who writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman and others. Her website is here.

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear