Many Beautiful Things makes World Premiere at 2015 Manchester Film Festival
Lilias Trotter (1853-1928) was a budding talented and mainly self-taught artist who gave up the chance of fame and fortune for a life of obscurity because of her passion to serve God and to help the poor and needy. Many Beautiful Things is a film about the life of Lilias and explores, to an extent, the relationship between the artist and the famous Victorian Art Critic and social philosopher, John Ruskin.
The detail about the relationship between Lilias and John is sketchy but through the discovery of some archived letters, a picture is painted of an older man who appears to long for more than a mentoring role in Lilias’s life. His churlish letters to her left me feeling a little uncomfortable and wondering if her calling to Algeria was also a means to escape his unwanted attentions (but maybe my imagination is adding the drama that was absent from this story of Victorian repressed, and possibly unrequited, love). The film claims to tell the untold story but did leave me wanting for more detail in the relationship with Ruskin. Perhaps through lack of factual information, or because of the film makers and biographers Christian backgrounds, this was just skirted over while the focus on her calling to God was brought to the fore.
If, like me, you have never heard of Lilias and are wondering why you might choose to see Many Beautiful Things, I would say that you will be left feeling that with more people like her in the world it would certainly be a better place. There is an underlying Christian message in the film which is not surprising considering the director, Laura Waters Hinson, is a Christian herself who is married to a pastor. The work is also a culmination of the work of biographer, Miriam Rockness, who is also a Christian and Pastors wife. I preferred to see the film as a piece of work about a strong, talented and gifted woman who was ahead of her time, rather than a piece about a religious calling.
Many Beautiful Things ultimately poses the question whether Lilias Trotter made the biggest mistake of her life by giving up art and fame to pursue Gods work as a missionary work in North Africa? The answer to this is clear from the filmmaker’s point of view but I’m still pondering…
Many Beautiful Things features the voices of Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey) and John Rhys-Davies (Lord of the Rings, Indiana Jones)