Many Beautiful Things
From executive producer Hisao Kurosawa, (Dreams, Ran), comes the untold story of one of the world’s greatest women artists and why her name was nearly lost to history. Many Beautiful Things plunges viewers into the complex age of Victorian England to meet Lilias Trotter, a daring young woman who defied all norms by winning the favor of England’s top art critic, John Ruskin. In an era when women were thought incapable of producing high art, Ruskin promised that her work could be “immortal.” But with her legacy on the line, Lilias made a stunning decision that bids us to question the limits of sacrifice. As Lilias journeys to French Algeria in the late 1800’s to pioneer work with women and children, viewers are left to wonder, “Could you abandon a dream to pursue your true calling?” Featuring the voices of Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey) and John Rhys-Davies (Lord of the Rings, Indiana Jones).
This is an inspiring and amazing documentary, telling the story of Lilias Trotter, an inspired painter, writer, and missionary, who might have been forgotten had it not been for biographer Miriam Rockness.
Lilias had a talent for painting and drawing from the time she was young. She painted beautiful landscapes, and later would write inspiring Christian pages in her diaries and journals.
This remarkable documentary is enhanced by the voice talent of Michelle Dockery performing the voice of Lilias, and the distinguished actor, John Rhys-Davies (Indiana Jones movies and Lord of the Rings), performing as John Ruskin, a talented artist and painter, not to mention a celebrity of sorts in London society.
Lilias loved painting landscapes, trees and hills, lighthouses and flowers. She wrote about the earth that “God so loves.” She also wrote the following insightful words: “Take the very hardest thing in your life, the place of difficulty, outward or inward, and expect God to triumph gloriously, in that very spot. Just there, He can bring your soul into blossom.”
Lilias knew pain and sorrow, and hardship. Her father died when she was 12 years old, and in the absence of her earthly father she sought her Heavenly Father. Ruskin, who lectured at Oxford in 1883, had his lectures published in the book Art of England. He met Lilias in Venice and he said he saw “spirit” in her water-color paintings. He began to teach her what he knew, and he saw that she captured images instantly. Ruskin had previously believed that a woman could not paint but admitted, “I was wrong in this conviction.”
Biographer Miriam Rockness, married to a minster, David, became fascinated over Lilias’ paintings and life, and spent some 30 years attempting to track down information about her life, including old letters. She became obsessed to learn more about Lilias, stating these were the days before search engines, and she relied heavily on the post (mail) and phones. Miram went from mild interest to a passion to learn more. The film makes use of interviews with Miriam, her research assistant Darcy Weir, and in re-enactments of Lilias’ life, which includes a scene of her walking by the water at dusk, and of her painting her beautiful landscapes.
She also painted at times in black and white, but her color paintings were breathtaking. Ruskin didn’t share the passion she had for the spiritual, although he recognized that nature is divine creation. At the time of his death, he declared he had not found the light that Lilias had, but she sent him a book of hymns to look at before he passed. Ruskin was concerned with Lilias, who would travel to the poor sections of London, risking her health and her safety to minister to the poor and to prostitutes.
During a church service, it was stated that the Lord was calling someone to Africa. Lilias rose to her feet and declared, “It’s me.” She could not get any missions agencies to help her, but she made the journey to Algiers herself, despite a heart condition. She immediately impacted the lives of the Arab women, who often were mistreated by their husbands. They confided in her.
She continued to correspond with Ruskin, who wanted her to come home. But she felt satisfied in her mission work, even being accepted by many men in the Arab/Muslim community. A brotherhood of mystics, who cared for her and felt welcomed by her, often met with her and had spiritual discussions.
Miriam, determined to learn more about Lilias’ and Ruskin’s relationship, searched long and hard for a long while for missing letters that Ruskin had written to Lilias. Finally, the letters were discovered in an archive file by an intern at the University of Texas. Sotheby’s had auctioned them off by a bookseller in 1966 to the university. Miriam learned that Ruskin felt rejected at times, wishing LIlias would paint more and return home.
She continued to help others, including working with women at the newly formed Y.W.C.A. She continued helping the poor. Ruskin showed his sense of humor in one letter, regarding her help of prostitutes, when he wrote, “Do you ever go to see people except the naughty people?”
The documentary runs through her life, up to her death, and includes a couple of photos of Lilias in her latter years. She continued to write and paint as often as she could. Finally, on her deathbed, several women surrounded her and sang her favorite song, “Jesus, lover of my soul.” She told them that she saw a chariot with six horses. They asked if she saw anything else, and she replied, “Many beautiful things,” which became the title of this documentary. She died in 1928 at the age of 75. This inspiring documentary has earned our Dove seal for All Ages.
The Dove Take
Your entire family will be inspired by this wonderful documentary about an extraordinary Christian woman, who lived an extraordinary life.