Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Lionel Laborie's "Enlightening Enthusiasm"

Lionel Laborie is a Visiting Researcher at Goldsmiths, University of London.

Here he dreamcasts an adaptation of his new book, Enlightening Enthusiasm: Prophecy and religious experience in early eighteenth-century England:
The wars of religion are a powerful, yet rarely exploited source of inspiration by the film industry. In France, Les Camisards (1972) and La Reine Margot (1994) are two multi award-winning examples of both critical and popular interest in this sort of historical fiction. The former is based on the War of the Cévennes (1702-1704), a religious revolt in early Enlightenment France that has inspired novels, plays and operas in French, German and English since the nineteenth century.

While its opening chapter concentrates on this last French war of religion, my book tells the story of its aftermath abroad, when three of these peasant-warriors found refuge in London in 1706 and gave birth to a notorious religious movement: the 'French Prophets'. Largely forgotten today, these religious ancestors of the Shakers remained widely known across Europe and North America throughout the eighteenth century. They claimed to be possessed by the Holy Spirit, prophesied in ecstatic trances, foamed at the mouth, groaned, spoke in tongues, ‘levitated', performed miraculous cures and Biblical allegories –the fall of the Whore of Babylon– and even attempted to raise the dead. Their assemblies in London taverns attracted all levels of society, from illiterate children and maids to wealthy gentlemen and even Fellows of the Royal Society. The Prophets’ spiritual performances proved so dramatic and outrageous that they caused riots, press scandals and a condemnation to the scaffold for blasphemy. The group also launched missions to European courts and eventually turned into a underground religious movement.

As a structurally loose religious movement, the French Prophets relied on a number of charismatic figures and powerful supporters. My ideal cast for a film would be:

Elie Marion, the eerily charismatic Camisard prophet: Matthieu Amalric

Nicolas Fatio, the emotional mathematician, Isaac Newton’s intimate friend and the Prophets’ spokesman: Pierre Niney

John Lacy, the melancholic justice of the peace-turned-charismatic prophet and miracle worker: Gary Oldman

Betty Gray, the teenage prophetess predicted to give birth to a second messiah: Mia Wasikowska

Maximilien Misson, the internationally renowned writer and spokesman for the Prophets: Fabrice Luchini

Thomas Emes, the dissenting chemist predicted to rise from the dead: Johnny Depp

Abraham Whitrow, the revolutionary Prophet who sought to redistribute wealth: Daniel Day Lewis

Dorothy Harling, the sadistic widow who whipped her brethren after hearing their confession: Susan Sarandon or Helena Bonham Carter

The film should focus on the early years of the French Prophets’ movement, roughly between 1706 and 1710, when they announced the Christ’s imminent Second Coming and defied religious authorities to establish a utopian Church. Lacy’s adulterous relationship with Betty Gray would add a great supernatural love story to the plot. Its director should have experience of both the occult and historical fiction. A master of the genre would be Roman Polanski.

More generally, the early modern period remains a virtually untapped source of inspiration for the film industry. Yet it is replete with incredible true stories of conspiracies, betrayals, imposture, heretics, mystics, prophets, sex and violence that offer all the ingredients for a Hollywood blockbuster. Filmmakers should look deeper into our past to engage fiction with real history.
Learn more about Enlightening Enthusiasm at the Manchester University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue