Episode 1

Image for Episode 1Not currently available on BBC iPlayer

Episode 1 of 6

Duration: 1 hour

Drama series set in and among the alleys, galleries and flesh-houses of 19th-century industrial London, following the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a vagabond group of English painters, poets and critics.

Some artists want lasting fame. Some want money. Others want sex. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood want all of it. These ambitious young men - the darkly handsome Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the brilliant and conflicted William Holman Hunt, and the preternaturally talented John Millais - are out to rock the art world with a style of painting that is, according to them, more true, real and heartfelt than anything seen for 300 years.

Unfortunately, the art world isn't much interested in a bunch of young iconoclasts raging against the 'Establishment' of the Royal Academy - particularly when one of that set, the shamelessly arrogant Rossetti, has yet to learn to paint.

The boys need to step up a gear, and so they set out to find a muse to inspire their best work yet. Cue Fred Walters - an aspiring young journo and longtime fan of the boys. Fred spots the dazzling and radiant redhead, Lizzie Siddal, at the back of a hatshop, and introduces her to the boys. They are thoroughly bewitched by Lizzie and before long are squabbling over who'll get to paint her first (and fall in love with her too, of course).

Next, they must find an influential figure to champion their work. Again with the help of Fred, they set about wooing the leading art critic of the day, the great John Ruskin. But given their lack of kudos, can they persuade Ruskin to make an appearance at an exhibition of their work? And, if they can persuade him to come, will their work be good enough to convince him to lend them his weighty support?

More episodes

See all episodes from Desperate Romantics
  • Writer: Peter Bowker discusses Episode 1

    You must enable JavaScript to play content

    Find out why writer, Peter Bowker, sees the characters as young punks and why he invented Fred Walters.

  • Cast Interview: Rafe Spall plays William Holman Hunt

    You must enable JavaScript to play content

    Discover how Rafe Spall plays his complicated character, William Holman Hunt, as a 'headbutting' Victorian gentleman.

  • Cast Interview: Sam Crane plays Fred Walters

    You must enable JavaScript to play content

    Sam Crane explains how his character, Fred Walters, gets in with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and how the director made some awkward demands of him.

  • Send a Sonnet: Lovesight by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

    You must enable JavaScript to play content

    Share this sonnet with someone special by clicking the 'Share' button above. Here Rossetti, played by Aidan Turner, speaks of his love for love itself; how it gives his life meaning and how his world would be so much darker for its loss.


William 'Maniac' Holman Hunt
Rafe Spall
Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Aidan Turner
John Ruskin
Tom Hollander
John Millais
Samuel Barnett
Fred Walters
Sam Crane
Effie Ruskin
Zoe Tapper
Lizzie Siddal
Amy Manson
Annie Miller
Jennie Jacques
Mr Stone
Phil Davies
Mr Siddal
Ian Puleston-Davies
Mrs Siddal
Polly Kemp
Charlotte Siddal
Josie Farmiloe
Mr Chadwick
Mark Benton
Charles Dickens
Mark Heap
Maimie McCoy
Kath Burlinson
Paul Gay
Ben Evans
Executive Producer
Hilary Salmon
Executive Producer
Franny Moyle
Peter Bowker


Buy online

Available on: DVD or Video download

From suppliers including: BBC Shop, iTunes

Where to buy

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Added. Check out your playlist Dismiss