Emma Thompson and Dakota Fanning Art World Movie Gets London Premiere

The film explores Millais and Gray's scandalous love affair.

Last Sunday, the film Effie Gray (2012), written by actress Emma Thompson, was finally launched in London, after a fierce legal battle that delayed its premiere by almost two years.

According to the Guardian, Thompson has won two separate lawsuits, prompted by accusations of plagiarism. In December 2012, New York district court Judge J. Paul Oetken ruled in favor of Thompson in a claim of plagiarism filed by the American writer Eve Pomerance, author of two unfilmed screenplays exploring the same historical events.

In March 2013, the American writer Gregory Murphy lost another lawsuit against Thompson. Murphy had accused the British actress of drawing inspiration from his play The Countess (1999), which had a brief run in London’s West End in 2005. New York Judge Thomas P. Griesa declared that the two works had “greatly differing internal structures”, and that were “quite dissimilar in their two approaches to fictionalising the same historical events”.

The film, co-starring Thompson herself, is a biopic of Euphemia (“Effie”) Gray—played by actress Dakota Fanning­—the young wife of the distinguished art critic John Ruskin. Gray caused a scandal in the thick of the prudish Victorian times by having an affair with the leader of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, John Everett Millais, who happened to be her husband’s protégé and most famous portraitist.

John Ruskin Sir John Everett Millais (1853-54) Photo via: Wikipedia

John Ruskin, Sir John Everett Millais (1853-54)
Photo via: Wikipedia

Gray had married Ruskin in 1848, when she was 20 and he 29. Their families had been friends for years, but that didn’t make up for their lack of shared interests and contrasting personalities. By then, Ruskin had ruffled the feathers of the art establishment with his staunch defense of the Pre-Raphaelites, whose exhibitions received scathing reviews at the time. Their paintings were typically considered nonsensical, shallow, and too erotic in their depiction of women.

Ruskin’s support of the group, particularly of Millais—who is played in the film by the actor Tom Sturridge—led to a friendship that went awry when Millais and Gray fell in love. When that happened, in 1853, Ruskin and his unhappy wife still hadn’t consummated their marriage. The critic later declared he had found something off-putting in Gray, despite her apparent beauty and constant modeling requests. This sustained rejection gave Gray the grounds she needed to file for a marriage annulment, which she won in 1854. By 1855 Gray and Millais were married and she bore him 8 children.

Watch the trailer for Effie Gray, which opens in UK theaters on October 10, 2014:

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