A darkened studio, props, costume changes and a few lights were all the technical requirements needed to create Wittgenstein, an approach that in 1993 was innovative and cutting edge. It was director Derek Jarman’s (Caravaggio, Edward II) penultimate film prior to his death at the age of 52.

In a series of tableaux and sketches, the film tells the life story of Viennese-born, Cambridge-educated philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein. From precocious child born into a extraordinarily wealthy family, he became a man (Karl Johnson – The Tempest, Peterloo) who, having given all his personal wealth away, struggled to support himself as an academic in the exploration of the limitations of language.

Non-connected snippets and selected moments of biography (friendships with fellow-philosophers Bertrand Russell and John Maynard Keynes, his homosexuality, the relationships with family) are all touched upon as Jarman looks to bring to the screen the unfilmable – the intellectual principles of philosophy. But, today, it all seems so affected and uninvolving. By drenching the screen in primary colours juxtaposed against the inky blackness whilst discussing the inadequacies of personal language ultimately fails to engage.

Rating: 42%

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