This is what Doctor Who looks like as Robert Mapplethorpe

Or is it the Duke of Edinburgh? The star of the Crown and the sci-fi series plays the photographer in a new movie
Matt Smith as Robert Mapplethorpe in the new Mapplethorpe movie
Matt Smith as Robert Mapplethorpe in the new Mapplethorpe movie

Robert Mapplethorpe assumed many different personas in his self-portraits, from fey transvestites to knife wielding toughs. However, to our knowledge, he never dressed up as Doctor Who or the Duke of Edinburgh.

The British actor Matt Smith has taken on both those roles; American readers may well have come across him in Netflix show The Crown, while in Britain, TV viewers will almost certainly remember him fondly as the eleventh Doctor Who.

Now Smith takes on the persona of the controversial American photographer, in a new biopic based on Mapplethorpe's life and times.

The movie, entitled Mapplethorpe, was commissioned by the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, though it isn't a wholly uncritical depiction with Smith expressing the photographer's flaws as well as his many considerable talents. "His Mapplethorpe is also nasty and cruel, yet seeks the approval of the parents whom he fled," says the Screen International review of the film, which debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York a few days ago.


Matt Smith as Robert Mapplethorpe in the new Mapplethorpe movie
Matt Smith as Robert Mapplethorpe in the new Mapplethorpe movie

This new movie, directed by Ondi Timoner, also put some of Mapplethorpe's more explicit material on the screen, reminding viewers just how challenging his work was, even in the late 1980s.

"Remember, this was a time when Madonna ignited scandal by wearing lingerie on stage," notes Variety. "America was not yet ready to see a bloody phallus, strapped down with string, bracing for a hammer blow. (Will the country ever be?)."

While these explicit subjects may limit the film's reach, it is reassuring to note the movie doesn't flinch from portraying Mapplethorpe accurately and honestly, without resorting to time-travelling trickery or Royal pretension.


Mapplethorpe Flora: The Complete Flowers

“I was sort of fascinated by him as a creature. And fascinated by his art,” Smith told WWD this week. “And then what drove him to be the artist that he was; his relationship to sex, his relationship to New York, his relationship to fame, his relationship to his own family. How all of these different forces were working to create this very complex [person], mild-mannered and gentle in some instances and then sort of wild and fervent and quite selfish in others.”

To get a greater understanding of just one of the many sides to Robert Mapplethorpe, order a copy of Mapplethorpe Flora: The Complete Flowers.

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