October 19, 1998 12:00 PM

Derek Jacobi

If one were to judge from his work, Francis Bacon (1909-1992), generally regarded as the greatest British painter of the century, was less than cuddly. Look at his famous portraits: The faces are typically reduced to a screaming, violent blur of pink and red—something like uncooked bacon streaked with fat. As this cold, sharp biographical study makes clear, the man was not nice.

Love Is the Devil covers the seven years—1964 to 1971—during which Bacon took as a lover (and subject) a petty crook named George Dyer (thuggishly handsome Daniel Craig). According to Love Is the Devil, Dyer was never comfortable with the sadomasochistic sex rituals Bacon preferred, never at home with Bacon’s booze-guzzling coterie. Dealing with Bacon drove him to madness.

If Bacon had his own demons to deal with, he at least had his salvation: a genius and a passion for painting. Jacobi, by turns caustically cruel and almost numb with some unfathomable unhappiness, captures the mysterious essence, both light and dark, of this important but difficult figure. (No rating)

Bottom Line: Unflinching rendering of an artist’s life, warts—especially warts—and all

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