Women in Love (1969)

Women in Love (1969), directed by Ken Russell.

This is Ken Russell's first big picture and in some ways his most accessible. It looks like one of the costume romances Merchant Ivory would become famous for later. It is an adaptation of a weighty controversial novel long thought to be unfilmable. It pushed against the British censorship standards and opened up new territory. It is said to be the first mainstream film with complete male nudity, and even with considerable homoerotic content.

As a drama it is a lot of talk talk talk, dancing interludes, more talk, difficult sexual negotiations which means lots of talking, some naked wrestling in front of a big fireplace and multi-sided shouting contests.

Everything falls apart in the final act in Switzerland. Russell's mind had moved on to his next picture -- The Music Lovers (1971) about Tchaikovsky, also with Glenda Jackson -- and he overlapped projects.

He keeps it lighter, more humorous than the book, but also makes the sexual issues more explicit.

DH Lawrence is a problem. He is a literary giant famous for being controversial, not for the quality of his writing, which in my opinion is pretty bad. Pick a large paragraph from any of books: can you read it without laughing at his overblown heavy pretentiousness? Much of it I find incomprehensible, like soap opera of the aliens.

I recall liking his short stories, and The Rocking Horse Winner (1949) was a good film.

(Aside: I have a theory I should probably keep to myself, but here goes. Some people do not feel the passions natural to most. This is something like the more extreme case of impaired empathy in the psychopath. They see passion from the outside and try to synthesize it in themselves, their conduct or their art. It never comes out quite right. The energy is diverted into a will to power and domination, or into justifying some ideology or literary aesthetic. I think Lawrence and those who find him inspiring are like that. Including Russell, which would explain why his sexual subjects are never quite right).

Georges Delerue score.

Available on Blu-ray from Criterion with an excellent image.

Ken Russell chatters away on the first commentary track, giving loads of interesting production details.

The second track is by Larry Kramer who produced and wrote the screenplay. Rambling but sometimes interesting. He takes the literary merit of the book very seriously.