By Mike Collett-White and Cindy Martin
CANNES, France (Reuters) - "Don't give up the day job" was the critics' blunt message to British rocker Pete Doherty, whose debut film role in 19th century love story "Confession of a Child of the Century" has had its premiere at the Cannes festival.
Based on an autobiographical novel by Alfred de Musset about his affair with writer George Sand, Doherty's casting in the lead role makes plenty of sense.
The character he plays is a Parisian libertine living the wild life, mirroring the Babyshambles and Libertines frontman's own history of alcohol and drug abuse.
In Britain he was a frequent fixture on the tabloid front pages due to his run-ins with the law and on-off relationship with supermodel Kate Moss.
French director Sylvie Verheyde had those similarities in mind when she cast Doherty in the English-language period drama, in which he stars alongside French actress Charlotte Gainsbourg.
"He (Doherty) was the figure of the poet now, like Musset was a figure of a romantic poet at this time," she told Reuters in an interview. "Just like Musset, he has this share of innocence and debauchery."
Doherty, whose character Octave is a disaffected, world-weary dandy wearing top hat, tails and a cane, said he had no hesitation in accepting the role.
"I couldn't not do it, really," he told Reuters in Cannes.
"Things come along in your life, where it's a certain melody, or a certain person and you can't not be involved because you regret it and you'll be sorry and you'd be really jealous if someone else does it."
Most critics in Cannes, where the film screened in the "Un Certain Regard" section for up-and-coming directors, did not spare the 33-year-old's feelings.
"Based on his debut performance ... the Libertines and Babyshambles singer shouldn't even think of giving up his day job," wrote Megan Lehmann in the Hollywood Reporter trade magazine, apportioning some of the blame to the director.
Baz Bamigboye, writing in the Daily Mail newspaper, opined: "Pete Doherty was collared for possessing ... cocaine ... now he has been done at the Cannes Film Festival for not being in possession of any acting talent."
Boyd van Hoeij from Hollywood publication Variety, was particularly scathing about scenes shared by Doherty and Gainsbourg.
"Charlotte Gainsbourg ... and ... Peter Doherty, making an inauspicious acting debut, have all the chemistry of two frozen fish filets, with line readings to match."
But Geoffrey Macnab of the Independent newspaper did not agree in his three-out-of-five star review.
"In essence, then, Doherty ... is playing a 19th century version of himself -- and he does it very well. He is understated, sardonic but has a vulnerability that stops him from seeming (too) obnoxious.
"The problems with an uneven film are not of his making."
(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)