This film tells the sad tale of the marriage of art historian and critic John Ruskin to the young and innocent Effie Grey. Ruskin refused to consummate the marriage because he claimed to be repelled by the true nature of his wife’s body, having drawn his ideas about women from the art he studied.
The young and vibrant Effie became increasingly withdrawn and stressed as her attempts to reach her distant and emotionally closed husband failed. Eventually she fell in love with pre-Raphaelite painter Everett Milais, divorced Ruskin, and married Milais.
Milais later became famous for his picture Christ in the House of His Parents, a controversial painting because of its gritty nature. Milais sought to portray reality, and the floor of the carpenter’s shop in his picture is littered with dirt and off-cuts. Religious life was not normally depicted in this way.
To this day many of us battle with the reality of a God breaking into this world and experiencing normality. Milais’ picture warms my heart because I need to be reminded again that Jesus experienced real life. He didn’t float about in a nighty and, unlike Ruskin, he would not have been repelled by the full nature of true humanity. John Ruskin may well have had an idealised vision of life, Jesus does not. He knows what it is to be a real person, eating, stubbing his toe, laughing, crying, stepping in dung, tearing his hand on a stray nail. People rarely behaved ‘properly’ around him, and he was well used to that. He faced conflict, derision, insults and misunderstanding.
As the writer John puts it in the first chapter of his gospel, ‘God became a human being and moved into the neighbourhood.’ (The Message version)