For Merchant Ivory to choose the man who is arguably the 20th century's greatest artist for a film portrait might suggest a departure from their recent studies of (usually English) repression. Nobody could accuse Pablo of being a wallflower, and his at times arrogant, selfish and sexually voracious zest gives Anthony Hopkins a field day, enabling him to avoid the restraint, for instance, of his portrayal of the buttoned-up Stevens in The Remains of the Day. This film, loosely adapted from Arianna Stassinopoulos' tome Picasso Creator and Destroyer, focuses on the years 1943 to 1953, tracing the ups and downs in the stormy relationship he struck up with an artist almost 40 years his junior, Françoise Gilot (McElhone, a serene, Sphinx-like presence). For all the (episodic) scenes of furious artistic and domestic activity, the movie turns out to be about suffering, fortitude and dignity at a price - the price of living with or near this Spanish force of nature. Merchant Ivory's ability to make a still-life from a tempest doesn't fail them here. There's much to admire, not least sterling support from an accomplished cast (Lapotaire, Moore and Harker's trio of mistresses, Eyre superb as the agent Sabartes, Ackland's keenly judged Matisse), Tony Pierce-Roberts' diverting cinematography of the Paris cafés and the aquamarine skies of the South of France, and the reconstructions of the studios by Luciana Arrighi. But as the movie progresses, its lack of dramatic heart becomes more apparent; this is spectacle without a committed moral view. Watching Hopkins' Picasso is like watching a beautiful animal: a magnificent bull left to head-butt and impale with impunity the sensibilities and psyches of all who venture into his arena.