Cinema: Shades of Madness

EDVARD MUNCH Directed and Written by PETER WATKINS

The Norwegian artist Edvard Munch lived for 80 years and painted for most of them. His work—striking, fearful, startling—was the vanguard of expressionism; indeed, Munch is, with Van Gogh, frequently considered the progenitor of the whole movement. Peter Watkins' film of Munch's life concentrates solely on the artist's tormented early years.

Watkins first furnishes some rather elementary biographical details. Munch (Geir Westby) was born in Oslo in 1863, second of five children in a family much battered by medical tragedy. Denounced and vilified at the outset of his career. Munch was accepted, even extolled, as...