Beau Brummell: This Charming Man



8-10 p.m., Sunday, May 7
BBC America

For some reason, they keep making movies about this Beau Brummell guy despite overwhelming evidence that he was mostly a sanctimonious jerk (albeit a well-dressed one). John Barrymore played Brummell in the first bio, a silent film released in 1924. It was remade with sound in 1954, starring Stewart Granger as Brummell and Elizabeth Taylor.

Now, a half-century later, the BBC tosses its hat into the ring with this telepic, portraying the late-18th century/early-19th century fashion maven whom a BBC America press release dubs "a metrosexual 200 years before the word was conceived." (Insert a big "So what?" here.) The man credited with creating the modern men's suit is portrayed by James Purefoy ("Rome") as arrogant, unctuous and self-destructive -- in other words, not a guy we really want to hang with for two hours or even two minutes. It's a rare misfire for a network that usually gets it right.

Purefoy is actually pretty skilled here in making us loathe the notorious dandy who was the toast of London's West End until he ran afoul of Prince George (Hugh Bionneville), ultimately dying penniless and insane from syphilis in 1840 at 61. He was in the highest circles, a contemporary of Lord Byron (Matthew Rhys) and running with the royals. He could have been the Simon Cowell of "Project Runway" had he been born a couple of centuries later.

Instead, despite his eye for stylish dress, Brummell was his own worst enemy, running up enormous debts and treating pretty much everyone in his orbit with unmasked contempt. His life plays here as a cautionary tale that imparts a valuable lesson: Don't ever call the Prince of Wales fat if you expect to stay off his enemies list. It's about all we can take away from a film whose protagonist not only is wholly contemptuous but dull to boot.

Oh, and thanks a lot, Beau, for conceiving the necktie.