He was both the garden and the gardener.
— Michael Charlesworth. Derek Jarman
A contemporary inquiry into the life and work of an important British director, writer, artist and queer culture activist who confronted Thatcher’s repressive policy against sexual minorities at the peak of the AIDS epidemic.
The book traces Derek Jarman’s transformation from a talented artist and set designer educated at the King's College London and Slade School of Fine Art, with several years of experience in theatres into an independent film director shooting strange and deeply personal films without definite scripts or stars on 8mm film. Those were the pictures that would bring him the greatest acclaim.
Jarman’s creative evolution is discussed in conjunction with the personal transformation of the artist. Beaten and humiliated by his father as a child, sexually abused by classmates at the boarding school he attended, the young man who was barely aware of his sexuality developed into one of the key minority rights activists, who took part in and organised pride parades, rallies, and queer communities.
As a critical biographer, Charlesworth is equally interested in facts and episodes of various scales and different natures. Drawing on Jarman’s own diaries and interviews with his friends, he creates a narrative where the personal and the creative are closely interwoven and influence each other. Jarman’s film career, for example, started due to a chance encounter with Ken Russell’s friend whom he met on a train: soon Russell offered him the chance to do the set design for The Devils, which had a huge if scandalous resonance. At the same time, Charlesworth introduces a broader context with episodes of political significance like the 1967 reform that decriminalised consensual homosexual acts between men over 21 (in England and Wales). Implemented the year Jarman graduated from Slade, the Act had a great effect on the young man starting his independent life.
The topic of gardens and gardening holds a central place in Charlesworth’s narrative for several reasons: the image of a garden, recurrent in Jarman’s films, poetry and prose, grew into the real garden he maintained by his house in Dungeness, where he spent the last years of his life. Soon after he was diagnosed with HIV in 1987 (which he was very public about), Jarman moved into the house known as Prospect Cottage and started the garden that had no fences and grew to take the strangest shapes—a reflection of the artist’s films, paintings, books, and ultimately, of his personality.