Tuesday, December 16, 2014


As a hormonal pre-teen whose nether regions went all atingle at the sight of Oliver Reed’s Bill Sikes waking up in Shani Wallis' bed in the 1968 kiddie musical Oliver!; no one wanted to see Ken Russell’s adaptation of D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love more than I. More to the point: no 7th grader with a wholesale unfamiliarity with either D. H. Lawrence or Ken Russell wanted to see Oliver Reed appearing full-frontal naked in a movie more than I.
But it was not to be.
For although my track record for persuading my mom to grant me permission to see age-inappropriate films on the basis of their “seriousness of content” was one both impressive and fruitful in one so young (my being both a shy and humorless 12-year-old got me into Bonnie & Clyde, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and They Shoot Horses, Don't They?); little did I know that my hopes for pulling the same stunt with Women in Love would be dashed thanks to my parents having seen the controversial film adaptation of Lawrence’s lesbian-themed novella The Fox (1967) a couple of years before. I was undone by the fact that the advertising campaigns for both The Fox and Women in Love downplayed the highbrow literary origins of these films in favor of stressing the inherently sensationalist virtues contained in their then taboo-shattering display of nudity and sexual frankness.
Alan Bates as Rupert Birkin
Glenda Jackson as Gudrun Brangwen
Oliver Reed as Gerald Crich
Jennie Linden as Ursula Brangwen
Eleanor Bron as Hermione Roddice
That I had been able to wheedle my way into the “Recommended for Mature Audiences” films listed above is largely attributable to the fact that they all pitched themselves as important, self-serious motion pictures commenting on contemporary issues. On the other hand, Women in Love, whose marketing betrayed a perhaps well-founded lack of faith in America’s interest in or familiarity with D.H. Lawrence, banked on the lure of eroticism to offset the stuffy reputation of British imports by choosing to go the exploitation route. Like The Fox before it, which used the promise of female-female sex as its prime publicity hook, Women in Love moved its homoerotic nude wrestling scene front and center as the defining image and focus of its entire marketing campaign.
And while I’m certain all of this paid off handsomely at the boxoffice, closer to home (seeing as it only solidified my mother’s perception of D.H. Lawrence as a high-flown pornographer, and strengthened her resolve to keep me far away from any film bearing his name) that particular marketing strategy ultimately proved disastrous to my private campaign to get a look at Oliver's reed. Roughly nine years passed before Women in Love's rounds at the revival theaters and my suitable chronological age coincided.
The stylish (if not eccentric) mode of dress of the Brangwen sisters not only establishes them as modern, independent-thinking women at odds with their dreary, working-class surroundings, but assert Women in Love's subthemes of internal (emotion and instinct), external (nature and environment), and man-made (industry and art) conflict.

Gudrun and Ursula Brangwen are two emotionally restless sisters whose naturally colorful natures chafe at the drab-grey existence proffered by their working-class status as schoolteachers in the coal-mining town of Beldover in postwar England, 1921. Both women are dreamy loners unable/unwilling to fit in with their surroundings. Both are also, if not exactly looking for love, reluctant to duplicate the domestic desperation of their mother, and therefore curious and receptive to exploring the experience.

Gudrun (Jackson), the youngest, is a self-styled artist and free-spirit sensually attracted to power and passion. (And, it would seem, brutality. In one scene she is shown becoming excited by the sight of Gerald mistreating a horse. In another, stimulated by a story an artist [Loerke] relates about having to beat one of his female models in order for her to sit still for a painting.)
"I would give everything...everything, all you love...for a little companionship and intelligence."
Vladek Sheybal  as Herr Loerke, a homosexual artist (Richard Heffer as his lover) presents Gudrun with a possibility of platonic love
Ursula (Linden), more of a realist and more sensitive than her sister, nevertheless envisions fulfillment as something achievable only through the surrendering of oneself to an idealized vision of one-on-one domesticated bliss. Into these sisters' lives, as though summoned by mutual longing, arrive Rupert Birkin and Gerald Crich; best friends of dissimilar emotional temperament who contribute to forming, in their coupling with the sisters, two contrasting yet complementary halves of a cyclical treatise on the conundrum that is passionate love vs. romantic love. The perpetual struggle between the sexes.
Woman in Love #1- Rupert & Ursula's loving relationship is often photographed in nature
Ursula finds romantic kinshipif little in the way of stabilitywith Rupert (Bates), a school inspector possessed of extravagantly quixotic theories about nature, life and love, all seeming to channel from a nascent awareness of his bisexuality. Meanwhile, Gudrun, perhaps out of want of stimulation or, as Rupert surmises, a lust for passion and greed for self-importance in love, is drawn to Gerald (Reed), the brutish, aristocratic son of the town’s coal industrialist. A shared quest for power, corrosively mixed with a need for both intimacy and independence, makes theirs a passionate, albeit combative, relationship more or less doomed from the start.
Woman in Love #2 - Gudrun & Gerald's doomed relationship is often photographed in dark surroundings
Intruding upon Ursula and Rupert’s self-perpetuating emotionalism and Gudrun and Gerald’s incessant power plays, are: Hermione (Bron), Rupert’s one-time love and the walking embodiment of orchestrated eroticism with none of the heat; and Rupert himself, whose unrequited love for the mulishly impassive Gerald encumbers his relationship with Ursula.
Men in Love - Rupert advances the possibility of an implicit, perfect love shared between two men

Many films have used the entwined relationships of two couples to explore the inconsistent, conflicting complexities of spiritual and physical love (my favorites being Mike Nichols’ Carnal Knowledge and Closer), but Ken Russell’s Women in Love gets to the heart of the matter (so to speak) in a way that is as visually poetic as it is emotionally painful. It's one of the most intelligent and genuinely provocative films about love I've ever seen.

I was in my early 20s the first time I saw Women in Love, and had you asked me, I genuinely would have told you I'd understood it then. But it seems with each passing year, the film reveals itself to be about so much more than I'd initially thought, I'm certain what I'd gleaned from the film at such a young age was but the mere tip of the emotional iceberg Russell presents us with.
Women in Love is one of those rare films that seems to grow smarter in direct proportion to the amount of life experience one chalks up. So it would seem, although you couldn't have convinced me of it at the time, my mom was right in thinking I was too young for this. Not that I wouldn't have loved to have seen Alan Bates and Oliver Reed in the buff, but Women in Love is far too mature in its themes for any of this to have made a whit of sense to me as an adolescent.
Sumptuously filmed, magnificently costumed (by Shirley Russell), and so exceptionally well-acted you can watch it again and again without ever unearthing all the delightful nuances in the actors’ performances, Women in Love is a thoughtful, surprisingly restrained film, and a pleasant departure from the operatic bombast of Russell’s later works.
Gudrun's desire for power and its liberating effects is poetically dramatized in a sequence in which her lyrical dancing tames and eventually overcomes a threatening-looking herd of highland cattle. (Amusingly, a herd which, when photographed from the front, share Gudrun's coloring and haircut.) 

My favorite thing about Women in Love is how artfully it tackles the unwieldy topic of love. Especially the pain and emotional upheaval born of that overused word never seeming to mean the exact same thing to any two people at any one time. 
Obscured by illusion, distorted by need, thwarted by cowardice; the impulse to love may be innate and instinctual, but it’s also intensely confounding. Ken Russell contrasts images of nature with images of the encroaching industrialism of postwar England to dramatize the natural urges of the characters as being in conflict with their repressed, intellectual notions about love. Ursula, Gudrun, Rupert, and Gerald all do a great deal of thinking and talking about love, but none betray a  trace of genuinely having any idea of what love really is or what they want. 
As suggested by Women in Love's repeated use of the popular song "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles," the characters all harbor romantic illusions about love: its potential for fulfillment, its ability to heal wounds, the emotional void it can fill. Conflict arises out of whether or not the grasping need of desire is capable of giving way to the vulnerability and freedom love requires.
Love & Death:  In a pairing shot that many critics of the day thought too heavy-handed (which, of course, meant I absolutely loved it), the drowning death of the film's only romantically idyllic couple (Sharon Gurney & Christopher Gable) is contrasted with Ursula & Rupert's unsatisfying first tryst. A premonition of blighted love, a graphic representation of romantic ideologies at cross purposes; the women's poses can be interpreted as lovingly embracing or greedily clinging to the men, the men, unequivocally adopting gestures of disentanglement.

While Ken Russell's operatic zest and Larry Kramer's graceful screenplay mercifully spare Women in Love from the kind of over-reverential airlessness common in most film adaptations of classic novels, I attribute the lion's share of the credit for the film's vibrancy to the talents of the amazing cast. 
In an era that required so many actresses to play the compliant love interest to counterculture antiheroes, Women in Love was a refreshing change of pace in presenting two women who have a say in what they want from life and love. Personal fave Glenda Jackson (looking quite smart in her blunt, Vidal Sassoon bob) emerged in this film as something of the "New Woman" of '70s cinema.
Blessed with a mellifluous voice and an articulate beauty that radiates strength, intellect, and fleshy sensuality, Jackson is Old Hollywood star quality without the lacquered veneer. Much in the same way I attribute Woody Allen with unearthing Diane Keaton, Ken Russell and Glenda Jackson are a pair forever locked together in my mind. Her performance as Gudrun Brangwen, certainly one of the more complex, emotionally paradoxical characters in literature, is almost wily. Throughout the film she wears the look of a woman in possession of a secret she dares you to find out. The quintessential Ken Russell heroine, Jackson won the Best Actress Oscar for her performance, and deservedly rose to stardom on the strength of this film. 
A real scene-stealer whose presence is very much missed when her character is required to recede into the background early on, is the ever-versatile Eleanor Bron as the pretentious Hermione: a potentially ridiculous individual made real and sympathetic by Bron's prodigious talent. Only after I'd read the book did I really come to appreciate the spot-on perfection of the self-enchanted sensual studiousness of Bron's performance.

Women in Love as a costume film/period piece, tightrope walks a space between stagy theatricality and naturalism that few but Russellwith his talent for finding natural locations that look like stage sets for an operacould pull off. Alan Bates fits the film's romantic setting perfectly (because I find him to be so swoon-inducingly beautiful, I can’t honestly say I've ever been able to really evaluate his performance with much objectivity), and Jennie Linden is effective in the somewhat thankless role of Ursula.
Reed and Jackson bring such smoldering dynamic intensity to their roles that their scenes together always feel slightly dangerous. I can't think of another actress who could appear opposite Reed in a scene and leave you concerned for his safety. I think Reed's Gerald Crich is his finest screen performance. Employing his trademark whispers to great effect, he somehow manages to be brutish, refined, and heartbreakingly vulnerable all at the same time.

Given your average ratio of anticipation to disappointment, it came as no small surprise to discover, after having waited so many years, Women in Love’s fabled nude wrestling scene more than lived up to its reputation. Satisfied with merely being sensually enraptured by the sight of two obscenely sexy actors wrestling in the altogether; I wasn't at all prepared for what a dramatically powerful and daring scene it is. Daring not in its exposure of flesh, but in its exploration of a subtextual, taboo attribute of a great many onscreen male relationships (and, I daresay, many real-life relationships as well).
I'm not sure who said it, but someone once made the keen observation that homophobia in men is not really rooted in a general distaste for male-on-male sexual contact, but rather in the fear of "What if I like it?"
Heterosexual men have established a social order in which they have left themselves few avenues allowing for the expression of male affection. In lieu of this, they have contrived a network of female-excluding, male-bonding rituals so convoluted and complex (sports culture, strip clubs, ass slapping, "bros before hoes" guy codes, homophobic locker room humor, bromance comedies, misogyny masked as promiscuity [the Romeo syndrome], etc.) you sometimes wish they'd just have sex with each other and get it over with. One can't help but feel that the world would be a less aggressive, insecure place if they did.
In Women in Love, Rupert and Gerald's friendship is really the most intimate, passionate, and loving relationship in the film, but Rupert uses words and lofty theories to mask his inability to fully confront his own sexual confusion, while Gerald is too emotionally remote to allow himself to address the issue at all. On the heels of the death of Gerald's sister and following Rupert's less-than-fulfilling consummation of his affair with Ursula, the two friends find themselves at a loss for how to "appropriately" comfort one another. So, as is the wont of repressed heterosexual males the world over, Rupert and Gerald resort to displays of physical aggression as a heterosexual means of expressing homosexual intimacy.
As the friendly combat gives way to a physical exhaustion matching their physical closeness, it's clear to Rupert that Gerald feels "something" akin to his own feelings. But before that ultimate intimacy can be broached, Gerald, in an act of willful misunderstanding, finds it necessary to break off what has been established between them before things have a chance of preceding any further. (Wrestling by firelight, the very natural state of their nudity is made vulgar and shameful by the intrusion of the modern electric light he abruptly switches on.)

As a fan of '70s movies, what makes this sequence particularly compelling for me is how it symbolically evokes the unaddressed subtext in all those post-feminism, male-centric buddy pictures of the decade. Films like Butch Cassidy & the Sundance KidMidnight Cowboy, and Easy Riderfilms in which women are shunted off to the sidelinesare all essentially male romances. In each film, women are present, even loved, but there's no getting past the fact that the deepest, most profoundly spiritual love occurs between the male characters. Women in Love's wrestling scene dramatizes the struggle men face when affection for another man is felt, and (at least in this instance), the societal and morality-imposed roles of "friend" are found to be inadequate.
It's an outstandingly courageous sequence whose confrontational frankness wrests Women in Love out of the past and centers it far and above what most mainstream filmmakers are willing to do even today. Who knew? A sequence I only expected to be a feast for the eyes proved to be food for thought as well.

Women in Love was promoted with the tagline“The relationship between four sensual people is limited: They must find a new way.” And while this might sound more like the tagline for 1969’s Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, it does at least touch upon the theme of the inadequacy of classically “romantic” notions of love in a modern world, and the need for a kind of sexual evolution.
The Proper Way to Eat a Fig
Almost as scandalous as Women in Love's nudity was the inclusion of a scene (not in the book) where Rupert compares a fig to female genitalia. The words are taken from D.H. Lawrence's 1923 erotic poem, Figs, which can be read in its entirety, HERE

None of the characters in Women in Love are able to fully align what they presuppose about love (nor what is true to their natures) with their present realities. In an earlier post about Mike Nichols’ Closer, I wrote:
“The four protagonists fumble about blindly seeking love without knowing how to return it, demanding love without earning it, and giving love without committing to it.”

The same can be said for the characters in Women in Love. And although more than 70 years separate the creation of the two works (Patrick Marber's play, Closer, was written in 1997, D.H. Lawrence's novel was published in 1920) it intrigues me that after so many years and so much human progress, the basic cosmic riddle that is love remains essentially and eternally unanswered.
Rupert - "But I wanted a man friend eternal...as you are eternal."
Ursula - "You can't have it because it's impossible."
Rupert - "I don't believe that."

Copyright © Ken Anderson   2009 - 2014


  1. One of my favourites Ken and your entertaining insightful review certainly did it justice

    1. Hi Mark
      Thank you so very much. It doesn't surprise me that this film is a favorite. It's funny, but every time I write about a noted film from Great Britain, I wonder what your thoughts are on it. Of late I've been enjoying your writing about so many classic and contemporary films on you blog.

  2. As usual, a brilliantly-perceptive essay on one of my very favorite movies. I especially enjoyed your analysis of the nude wrestling scene which is the lynchpin of both the novel and the film. You only have to contrast the thought-provoking, truly erotic nature (even for a straight female like myself, ha-ha) of that scene from a film almost 50 years old with the recent tedious, fame-whore antics of James Franco and Setb Rogen to come to the dispiriting realization that presentations of male friendship in popular cultural haven't advanced at all in five decades.

    1. Seth Rogen. Sorry for the typo.

    2. I'm very grateful, Deb. And you must have been channeling my thoughts vis a vis Rogen/Franco. I recently watched the execrable comedy "This in the End" in hopes that (as the reviews claimed) it would be a smart skewering of Hollywood celebrity.
      No such luck.
      In this frat boy wet dream of a movie, women are inconsequential and gay-panic jokes abound. yet the only love and concern is between the men. Franco and Rogen's gay-baiting brand of bromance comedy was fully on my mind when I was writing about the wrestling scene.
      I know those two jerkwads think they are envelope-pushing, but their brand of humor is rooted in there being something intrinsically comical in the coupling of two men. On that score they are both as avant-garde as a cave painting.
      And you're right, the eroticism of that scene is really pansexual. I can't imagine anyone not finding it sensual, no matter the sexual orientation. great to hear from you Deb, and thank you for your kind compliment!

  3. I haven't thought about Eleanor Bron in ages, Ken.
    Thanks for the reminder.
    Bron added so much to so many key 1960s films - from 'Help!'' to 'Two for the Road' - and then just seemed to vanish.
    What a wonderful actress!

    1. I saw her recently on "The Midsommer Murders" TV show. She played the crusty and eccentric lady of the manor--and she played her magnificently! It's a shame she never had the career her early work would indicate she would have.

    2. Eleanor Bron is remarkable. I fell in love with her in "Two for the Road," but her comic versatility in "Bedazzled" entirely makes the film for me. I think I've only seen her in the Beatles' film "Help" and as the harsh headmistress in the 1995 version of "A Little Princess." Flawless in every role.
      I’d be in heaven simply listening to her speak. What a voice!

  4. Ken, you've done it again! A great write-up of a great film.

    Watch this back-to-back with The Music Lovers for added brilliance and insanity!

    1. Thank you, Thom.
      And, back in the day of Berkeley revival theaters, "The Music Lovers" was precisely the film "Women in Love" was paired with! It was my first time seeing both films.

  5. What a lovely post - I saw this movie so many decades ago (and I think in a cut-TV version), that I simply must find it ASAP and watch it again after reading your thoughts on it. Russell seems to have a reputation as a self-indulgent, out-of-control filmmaker (I haven't seen much of his work but I thought his film on Mahler pretty silly), but he achieved a rare, controlled expressivity in this film; and I don't think there's any Hollywood film that has really caught up to it. Certainly in all the hysteria today over what constitutes 'acceptable' love between people I don't think our culture has caught up. Love your essay, Ken, beautifully and sensitively written and with a mature perspective on cinema and its depiction of relationships.

    1. Hi GOM
      "I don't think there's any Hollywood film that has really caught up to it."
      I love that observation because I think it's so true. The short-lived era of cinematic freedom that was the late 60s/early 70s produced some truly remarkable films.
      Self-indulgent and out-of-control indeed describes a great deal of Russell's later work (often the very things that make those particular works gel) but "Women in Love" always stands out as Russell at his subdued best.
      I'm very happy you enjoyed the piece and I thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts as well.

  6. Hi Ken,

    Engaging as ever. I recently re-watched this after some years for a specific purpose one I think you might enjoy. One of the other blogs I follow, A Fistful of Films, has been doing the most fascinating series called Twice a Best Actress wherein a panel of six bloggers have been watching and critiquing both performances of all the actresses who have won two or more leading Oscars. Up until last week it was posted every Friday but with the holidays the last three in the series, Vivien Leigh, Kate Hepburn's last two wins and up next Glenda!, are going to be a bit more scattershot in showing up. There is usually a wide assortment of feelings on the individual work which of course makes it more interesting. Occasionally there's a consensus, everybody loved Olivia de Havilland in The Heiress, but that's rare. Being an avid film viewer I really do think it's something you'd get a kick out of. There's also a Twice a Best Actor, that ran first, which was terrific too but being a trifle more actress-centric I'm enjoying this one slightly more. Here's the link if you're interested:


    Now back to Women in Love, I had seen it in a revival house originally and this was the first on DVD-quite a different experience! I can't say I've ever loved the film but I liked it the first time and moreso on this re-view. I think Glenda is very good in the film, although I thought she was better the next year in Sunday, Bloody Sunday, but the film seems misnamed to me since it struck me as Men in Love with the women, strong though they may be taking a more secondary role. But even with that seeming emphasis the characters are well defined and certainly stronger than most you'd find in films today.

    I love Alan Bates in pretty much anything, he's in my personal top ten favorite actors. While I could do without the period appropriate beard he is devastatingly handsome in this, as is the burlier Oliver Reed, and he gives a wonderfully intricate performance, I think the best in the film. I'll admit that I relished the wrestling scene on a purely visual level as most do but I liked your description of the complexities in the scene which I noticed more on this second view. I agree that this isn't a film for younger viewers, while I wasn't a kid the first time I found much more in the picture when I watched it again.

    The one performance that I found less than wonderful was Jennie Linden as Ursula. Not having read the book I don't know if she was a more colorless character there or if the strong screen personas of the other three actors overwhelmed her. She's not bad by any means but she doesn't make the same impression as the others.

    The film does have a beautiful look and I have vague memories of its initial release. I was far too young to even contemplate trying to get in to see it but I remember one of my uncles talking about seeing it and being scandalized! Which of course made me curious but like you I had to wait many years to finally see it.

    1. Hi Joel
      Thank you very much for the link to that site. Oddly enough, I happened upon it some time ago and enjoyed the multi-reviewer format. I definitely will check it often to see when Ms. Jackson will make an appearance.

      The title, "Women in Love" always reminded me of Jane Fonda's "Klute" in being a title that feels as if it were an intentional commentary on the film's themes of masking the inappropriate with the respectable or socially acceptable. The title "Women in Love" betrays the story's truth in the same way the characters of Rupert and Gerald betray their own.

      I am overdue for a look at "Sunday Bloody Sunday" again. I saw it many times in college, but haven't seen it in years. But I still have a strong memory of Peter Finch's performance, which was terrific.
      In all the adjectives i tried to come up for Oliver Reed, I'm sorry I didn't think of burly. A great word.
      Love too that your uncle felt scandalized by it!
      Thanks for providing such a thorough glimpse into your thoughts and experience of this film. Your points are always so well-taken. Thanks, Joel!

  7. Argyle, here. Ken - another wonderful essay. Somewhere in the future there will be some little boys and girls who I hope will have the benefit of your site being available in old-fashioned book form. I spent many years reading about and obsessing over films that I had never actually seen. I believe this is an invaluable exercise. I had (still have) one book in particular (cannot remember the name!) that had essays on maybe 60 films, grouped 5 per loosely defined genre. And they were all over the map, big classics to pretty obscure foreign films, old to relatively contemporary. Over time I would go back and forth, re-reading about ones I already had seen and loved, or trying to understand the significance of ones I had not seen or wondered if I’d ever see. (I probably pondered over “Au Hasard Balthazar” from age 15 to finally seeing it on a screen in Indianapolis of all places in maybe 2004.) Your blog has a similar place in my universe now. Please take that as a tribute. Well, it’s not in that book, but now it’s here, and I’ve never seen “Women in Love.” It’s been on my radar forever. I’ve seen lots of Ken Russell; my discovery of your site was precipitated from rooting around for intelligent commentary after a long delayed viewing of “The Boyfriend.” You’ve never disappointed since. There needs to be a word for finally getting to see something after years of anticipation. There’s probably a German word. Anyway, your essay confirms and opens the door to a multi-faceted appreciation of this film for me.

    I absolutely agree with and applaud your middle section on men and their relationships. The last thing I would want to do here is to start an argument with anyone. This is purely my opinion based on my life. Whenever I hear someone make the “it’s a choice” argument in regard to other’s sexuality, my first thought is: so you’re implying that you made a choice, too. My thought is it’s all in there, in all of us, to some degree or another. For me, this is affirming and explains a lot. As you suggested, people only fear things that they themselves feel. I can extrapolate this to explain wars and violence and lots of stuff, but I won’t today. This is almost beyond language so I’ll stop before I go astray and get myself and others confused.

    As always, thanks Ken!!

    1. Hi Argyle
      Your beautifully written sentiments I very much take to heart and thnak you ofr. My partner in particular found what you wrote to be very moving.
      Feelings I wholly relate to as well, since as a child I used to re-read the books of Pauline Kael I got from the library, and they would transport me into these films I wouldn't see until many years later. Her love of film taught me how to look at film, and I developed an appreciation for the ability of someone to share their experience of a film with you through the use of words.
      You flatter me a great deal, but beyond the blushing is the appreciation that you find a bit of what you seek on this blog. I always glean from your comments that when you enjoy a film it often stems from a personal place not dissimilar to mine.
      Your comments lead me to believe that when you do settle down to give "Women in Love" a look, you'll derive a lot from it. I hope you come back and share it with me and the readers here.

      As for me, I've got to check on the French film you mentioned, which I know absolutely nothing about. How fascinating that it caught your attention at such an early age!
      I think as long as we have a world where kids are made to feel they don't belong because they sometimes feel things deeper or see things more keenly than others, film will always be the sort of magic escape for the spirit. As you say, reading about and allowing oneself to get wrapped up in film can be an invaluable exercise in the young. Your comments inspires me to want convey that reality as truthfully as I can. You made my day, Argyle! Thanks!

  8. Ken, as usual, you offer such insightful analysis, not only of the film at hand, but of people in general - yet always soluble and entertaining.

    To tell you how times have changed, my 11th grade English Lit. class watched this (in two parts) on VHS during school! True, in a classroom of 25 or so and a 21" TV it was near impossible to make out any of Alan and Oliver's wobbly bits, but think about that... The mind reels.

    Anyway, this was on an HD channel not long ago and I watched it again. What a great piece of film work. Rich film-making. (And I shudder that, were it to be remade today, the scenery would be all CGI-ed out and "amazing" instead of the wholly natural look that this 1970s movie has.)

    Thanks, too, for pointing out the wondrous Eleanor Bron, who is SO underrated in many things. It's criminal that she's basically unknown outside of die hard film buffs. Take care!

    1. Hi Poseidon
      Amazing how a film that can cause such a scandal in one era can be suitable for a high school English class in another! Seeing how often this scenario plays out, you'd think people would just bypass the usual outrage attendant to the depiction of sex and nudity on the screen.

      on the film's DVD commentary, Ken Russell relates a tale of censorship backfiring. A country forbid the screening of "Women in Love" unless the scene was cut from the point the men undress and resume when they are lying on the floor panting and sweating. The cuts were approved, but when the film screened, audinces imagined a scene far more explicit than mere wrestling, and "Women in Love" became a hit because everyone wanted to see the "buggery scene."

      I agree that this film is a beautiful film to look at. One spared all the digital sweetening of today. And speaking of natural resources, if anyone knows of Eleanor Bron at all (and too few do) they really seem to love her.
      Thank you Poseidon, for the compliment and comments!

    2. Ken,not to go on and on about CGI, but I happened to look through your screencaps again this morning and was struck by how delicate the backgrounds are in some of the shots. Alan in front of the desaturated forest/foliage, Eleanor against that pale green field and Alan and Oliver before an almost white-blue sky. These soft, simple backdrops highlight the ACTORS and their FACES! Many filmmakers today could not be trusted to refrain from ramping up the color saturation and adding unnecessary fuss in the background, be it leaves wafting down or generated seagulls flitting about! LOL Less is more.

      As for the nudity thing, I am a firm believer that the more buttoned-up and shamed a society is about nudity, the more perversion is bred. I'm referring to desexualized, natural nudity. When it is stifled/withheld and forbidden, I believe that certain types of people begin to obsess about it and will go to great lengths to observe it, up to and including breaking the law. They're our bodies. Unclench a little! Just my own opinion. Thanks!

    3. Great points made. I've always thought Ken Russell's years studying art and photography lent his films a visual richness most directors wouldn't even think of. In looking over those screencaps, I see what you mean. And the fact that the locations are authentic lends a beauty to the shots that will never match the kind of green screen mania that sunk Baz Luhrmann's "Gatsby."

      And, having grown up in an era when movies (very briefly) tried to depict sex and nudity in a mature fashion in film, I tend to be on board with your theory that repression of the natural sex urge leads to obsessing over it.. I mean that's post-Victorian American culture in a nutshell, anyway. Thanks for bringing up a few new interesting points!

  9. Ken, I can't wait to see this one again after reading your marvelous article...it has been many years. And yes, as one of your readers aptly notes, Glenda Jackson in Sunday Bloody Sunday would make a perfect double-bill...

    So true that as a culture, we haven't broken down all that many boundaries and taboos since the late 1960s--mainstream cinema lost its adventurousness around the time of Jaws and Star Wars (not that I don't love those too) and never quite regained it. Also lost - the art of subtlety and nuance and subtext, which Women in Love is filled with.

    Forgot this was a Ken Russell film--perhaps his best, even though I love the over-the-top nature of Tommy. Most of his films after this one are all spectacle; this one is both rich AND vibrant as well as thought-provoking. (All those adjectives can also be applied to YOU and your wonderful work, Ken Anderson!!)

    Hope your holidays are awesome! Looking forward to Le Cinema Dreams in 2015!!

    1. Hi Chris
      The one common response I get from people who mostly know Ken Russell from "Tommy" or "The Devils" is forgetting that this rather restrained film is his as well.
      From performances to visuals, it has so much to recommend it. I love his spectacle, but this one is special for me.
      I think independent films today have picked up the 70s mantle a bit (but even they sometimes seem fashioned to get noticed at Sundance or win the filmmaker a hefty-salaried studio gig), but as you say, mainstream movies feel to have lost its adventurousness (and with the price of some actors, who can afford adventurous?).

      Thank you so much, Chris. You are very generous with your praise, and i appreciate it.
      Happy holidays to you, too, and happy movie-watching in 2015!

  10. Hello Ken, I was able to see this film at the Cinemateque in Stockholm and I was intrigued by it. I enjoy Ken Russels films. I know that he is an acquired taste. Thank you for your great essay of the film. This a much needed forum for these kinds of films of the 1960's and 70's that you write about. I hope people will come here and be inspired to se films like "Women in Love".

    You are right that Glenda Jackson and Oliver Reed were a good match when it comes to radiating willpower.I love Vladek Sheybal and Elanor Bron too. They were in so many cool films. Alan Bates was at his most lovely here. I need to see this film again soon! There are probably more layers to appreciate in it.

    You wrote that this film isn't airless like som films based on classic novels. I've noticed that there aren't any Merchant-Ivory films reviewed by you on this site (did I miss any?). Are they too sedate?

    1. Hello Wille
      I would have loved to have seen this on the big screen when it came out. It's very beautiful. But nowadays with HD and Blu-Ray, I wonder if I'm seeing some of my favorite films looking as they've never looked even in first-run?
      Glenda Jackson and Oliver Reed are such an amazing pair. Did you ever see a film titled "Triple Echo"? They are paired (somewhat) again, and for me they are the Tracy/Hepburn of my generation...they were better together than with any other partner.
      As you say, such a fabulous cast in general.
      i do have ONE Merchant-Ivory film on my blog, one almost no one associates with them It's the Raquel Welch (!) film "The Wild Party"
      I do think they can be a little stuffy, but I enjoy the levels of gay sensibility and homorerotica that often creep into their films, intentionally or not. I adore "Room with a View" but mostly for the Julian Sands eye-candy.
      Thanks for visiting this post, Wille. You have such a keen interest in films before your time and such a curious interest in the unfamiliar. I lost that YEARS ago!

  11. I sneaked into the initial release of this film at the ripe young age of 14! Yes! It absolutely blew me away. It encouraged an investigation of all things DH Lawrence for which I will forever be grateful.
    Your analysis of the wrestling scene is truly spot-on and believe it or not reflects my "feelings-in-nascence" about it back then. I thank you for affirming those feelings of mine now 45 (!!!) years down the road.
    For all the other important things Larry Kramer has done in life ---- and he has done much --- I feel, whether he likes/agrees with it or not, this film and his writing for and funding of it to be his most far-reaching, and therefore most inflential contribution; it opens doors and it asks essential questions. And it has probably reached more people than ever bothered to crack its complex and difficult source book.
    It is little known but both Faye Dunaway and Vanessa Redgrave were the initial considerations for Ursula. Imagine --- either one of them.
    I need to mention the late Eleanor Bron's fine work in TURTLE DIARY with Jackson and Ben Kingsley.
    And in closing: try Russell's equally subdued SAVAGE MESSIAH and SONG OF SUMMER.
    Thanks, again!

    1. Hi Gregory
      Wonderful comments all around! Had no idea about Faye Dunaway being considered, but I can actually imagine Redgrave.
      Congrats on seeing this film at such an early age and (from the sound of it ) actually understanding it! How marvelous it must have seemed at the time. And you have the pleasure of experiencing how the film's themes have changed (or not) as your life experiences grew.
      I have always been meaning to get around to watching The Turtle Diary, but if it contains a good performance from Eleanor Bron, that's all the extra encouragement I need. And of course, I must seek out Song of Summer, a film I'm unfamiliar with.
      I saw Savage Messiah just last year for the first time, but it was eclipsed in my mind by Mahler- which I saw at the same time. Just loved that one.
      But I do love that these films hold forth proof that Ken Russell was capable of more than operatic bombast.
      Thanks for sharing your very informative and interesting comments!

  12. I managed to get a GREAT copy of Women In Love off of ebay, which wasn't at all expensive. I love it...but I still need to watch it a few times more, after watching it a few times to begin with, to understand exactly what it's all about. But I wondered if you have ever seen Sunday Bloody Sunday? I would love to read your analysis on it. It's pretty powerful stuff. Especially when i finally saw it on dvd at the age of 35...when i began to question relationships and how much time i had left, etc.

    1. Hi John
      Yes, I've seen SUNDAY BLOODY SUNDAY several times, and I have the DVD. Being a huge Glenda Jackson fan I've always liked it. I hope to get around to writing about it here.
      I too think it's a pretty powerful movie. I saw it once when I was a young man closer to Murray Head's age. Now that I'm as old (or older) than Peter Finch, the film feels like it reveals new things to me all the time.
      I think you'll find that to be the case with WOMEN IN LOVE. A lot going on inti and it speaks to different people in different ways.
      Thanks for the thoughtful comment and for visiting the blog!

    2. Apologies if i'm "beating a dead horse" (an expression my junior high teacher used, and is disgusting) but another question about another film. but it does stay in the area of Ken Russell...have you seen his film, "The Devils"? I didn't think I would be able to handle it...but I bought the dvd and I thought the movie was phenomenal. It was disturbing but was worth to see for ALL the performances...not just the AMAZING and DARING Vanessa Redgrave and Oliver Reed. Great, GREAT actors in this film. just amazing. (there is a very thoughtful documentary on youtube about the Devils and features the actors telling "behind the scenes" experiences...some funny, some not. But Redgrave's comments explain the best why Russell wanted to film this story. it would be wonderful to read your analysis on this (any movie, actually, doesn't matter what) but I saw how you love Glenda Jackson and that you are a fan of Women In Love and how you see something new every time. I think Russell, like all great directors, wanted to achieve that. First day of spring....have a good one before summer!!! :)

    3. Hi cinemarocks
      Your interest in movies is far from "beating a dead horse" (an expression I'd never heard until I saw Woody Allen's "What's Up, Tiger Lily?" as a kid. It belongs to one of my favorite Allen quotes: "I'd call him a sadistic, sodomistic necrophile, but that's just beating a dead horse.")

      Back on track here...Anyhow, I love that you have discovered "The Devils" and enjoyed it. I wanted to see it BADLY when it first came out, but my parents nixed the idea. Which is good, because I honestly wouldn't have understood it. But I saw it in the 80s at a revival theater and I thought it was brilliant. But that was the US R-rated cut. I've since acquired the restored X-rated cut (the one you probably have) and - like "Sunday, Bloody Sunday"- It's a film I hope to write about soon.
      You used the right word to describe it "phenomenal" and way ahead of its time, while at the same time unable to have been made at any other time in cinema.
      I'm not sure if I've seen the documentary you refer to, but I'll check it out.
      I'm not fond of a lot of Ken Russell's latter-career work, but his early stuff shows a mad brilliance, doesn't it?
      Thank you for expressing your interest in what I might have to say regarding any of these films. I'm flattered. But more than that I'm gladdened you share your enthusiasm of film here so that we can all be inspired by it. Thank you for writing and a very happy spring and summer to you, too!

    4. My Lord, sorry about the delay in responding. yes, Russell's early does show a mad brilliance, no doubt. thinking of his later films, he may have calmed down a bit. but the 60s 70s were a daring and dangerous time and reflected that in the stories of movies. (thank God).
      The hardes part of watching Women In Love is the the drowning of the young couple. They were the happiest "in love" because they could "feel" what love is and could be (something that is natural in youth, until you become bitter and jaded and your feelings become numb and your dreams fade). maybe Lawrence left it up to us to decide if this beautiful, young "love" would actually last and go somewhere.
      Why did they have to die? I concluded to show how in youth, we are "brave and crazy" and sometimes get away with it, or sometimes don't. Youth and young love are the same, it is beautiful, rare, something to respect and hold dear for it goes by so quickly. But youth and love is dangerous. Both are impulsive, passion morphing into confusion and chaos, the ideal it lasts forever but sometimes doesn't. and in this instance...death from the feeling of love being so powerful that it will save you and keep you from danger. Part of what we want from love in the first place and really what it should be in a partner.
      Interesting, that Gerald and Rupert, two mature "adults" who are desperately trying to understand "love" must save the two "teenagers( who understand love and in touch with their feelings as well as their partners'....)....from that beauty that becomes impulsive, dangerous and so dangerous this time...i "kills" them. Is it the older, wiser men who are right? Or is it the younger, foolish (but totally aware of the beauty of love) who are right and all the smarter then the bitterness of the older who have been let down, time and time again.
      I admit, i'm biased, i'm 47. I see very very young couples and it makes me happy but at the same time, jealous and very sad. when i was their age...i knew it would go by quickly. that i would be older before i knew it. so you try to hold on, appreciate the present. And we hold onto the dream that you will find a lover who will be with you for the rest of your life.
      I thought about this when watching the film. I always want to go back and be young. Seeing the two younger characters in bliss,made it that much stronger. of course i understood the two men and women..older and trying to understand what love has done to their lives, what it will do and what it can be. but i side with the younger couple...to me that is what love really IS, it is that simple to understand. The joy of intimacy, in the moment, that feeling of power, without question. We have to work to keep it alive, because it is so easy to take it for granted and lose it altogether.
      But Herimone was right as well. She said (if i remember correctly) "it is better to be dead then to go through life in repetition, repetition, repetition....." If the true feeling of love, in our youth is smashed by the numbness of getting older and shut off from our feelings....it might be better to experience that rare and powerful feeling, and then leave this world, before it is beaten out of us by the harsh reality of maturity, adulthood, the inability to dream.

  13. Iris Murdoch once wrote, "Extreme love must bring terror with it." Almost sounds like an advertising blurb for Women in Love...

    Terrific take on a terrific film, Ken. I happen to think Ken Russell to be just about the perfect choice for adapting Lawrence's incredible, groundbreaking novel to film. Not because Ken Russell was the world's greatest director, necessarily. On the contrary: more for his potential to be, at times, an over-the-top, even terrible director. In virtually all of his movies, Ken Russell usually went too far (see everything from The Devils to Listzomania.) But this matches up, stylistically at least, with DH Lawrence's often over-the-top ambitions in Women in Love. In her review of the film, Pauline Kael wrote, "Lawrence wrote purple prose...he was probably the most purple of all great writers...and he may have made a fool of himself groping around inside of the psycho-sexual netherworld of his characters, but he WAS opening new terrain." Another words, for his own visionary, often dangerous reasons, Lawrence went too far. And a safer, more 'tasteful' director than Russell might have made a boring, old f-rt BBC thing out of Lawrence's novel (I believe there is one out there) and missed out completely on the extreme, out-there quality of Lawrence's writing: the sublime, preternatural, terrifying essence of the book.

    Instead, with Russell at the helm, we have vivid, intense scenes like the crazed, see-sawing closeup on Eleanor Bron's harpy-like face after she smashes Gerald's skull with the paperweight; Birkin's desperate, painful cleansing of his wounds in the woods, where he seeks an ultimately frustrated communion with the natural world; Gudrun's dance of the bulls, which was laughed at at the time, but now looks like an almost exact transcription of Lawrence's intention; Gerald's whipping of the mare in front of the moving train, an excruciating, painful scene on film, but one which captures, perfectly, the almost sadomasochistic struggle for dominance between Gudrun and Gerald in the book; and, of course, the nude wrestling scene, which...um...uh...well, before I get WAY too carried away here, let's just leave it at that.

    Following the tragic, shocking convulsions of what was once called The Great War, Lawrence, like many artists, became bitterly disillusioned with Modernity. In his quest for a better way of life, and with such giants as Freud and Nietzsche as his guides, Lawrence searched for something that he believed may have been, simultaneously, above, below, and beyond the modern world. The recovery of a sort of Pre-Modern consciousness, perhaps; the pity and terror of the Greeks. And this quest was nothing short of existential on the part of the often sickly Lawrence, something akin to a life-and-death struggle. Women in Love is the greatest record we have of Lawrence's ambitions, the most complete accounting of what will always be, of necessity, a partial, incomplete quest.

    And Ken Russell's film adaptation may be the closets equivalent we may ever get of Lawrence's great novel. And it looks better all the time. Thanks again, Ken.

  14. Thanks, Rick! Marvelous points made throughout your thoughtful and thorough appreciation of both Lawrence and Russell. I agree with you that Russell is sublimely well-suited for depicting the passions addressed in Lawrence’s novella in cinematic terms. In fact, Russell’s unique brand of filmmaking has spoiled me a bit when it comes to the way other directors approach classic literature (as you cite, they tend to be dry BBC affairs) and biographies (He would have been terrific for ROCKETMAN).
    It always fascinates me to learn what specifically speaks to people in the works of directors and writers, and you’ve done a marvelous job of highlighting the scenes where Russell translates Lawrence faithfully for you.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the film. I too think it is the perfect adaptation of the book, and It really does seem to look better with age, doesn’t it?

  15. Hi Ken-
    Thank you for another illuminating and well-written post.
    My partner asked to rewatch this film, primarily for the classic wrestling scene. At the end we were both taken with just how intelligent and intellectual yet accessible it is, and how a film of this ilk very likely wouldn't be made today...truly bittersweet and disappointing. Surely there's still an audience out there for something this well put together. It's a shame the studios only pander to the masses at large for the sake of a buck.

    The cinematography alone in this is stunning. That Riffelhaus setting at the end! As much as I'm over being cold and dealing with snow in general, I'd love to stay there sometime just for the views.

    As good as Glenda Jackson is in this, I can't help but be especially taken with Oliver Reed's understated performance. Actors should get the credit for what they hold within just as much as what they express. And considering Alan Bates' own sexual history, talk about a hand-in-glove casting choice. Just wonderful all around.

    1. Hi Pete!
      I so agree with you about this one. It's intelligence and maturity is what I, too, am I'm struck with whenever I revisit it. They make a lot of really marvelous films now (largely for TV/streaming...theater stuff still seems to be so market-based), but there's no getting past the unlikelihood of a film like this being made today. Not only because of nudity, or because it doesn't explain itself and it's script is so emotionally intelligent, but because I can't imagine any studio knowing who to market it to.
      An it IS such a gorgeous film. In Blu-ray HD the film is sumptuous beyond belief... you can see the texture of those brilliant Shirley Russell costumes.

      I like that you highlight the understated complexity of Oliver Reed's performance. I think you're right, he is quite marvelous here.
      I'm glad your partner suggested this one. Just thinking about it, I'm inspired to rewatch it again! Thank you, Pete!

  16. For me, one of the most interesting characters in the movie is Gerald's awful mother. She sics the hounds on a trio of local men who have come to the house to see her husband, mocks her son for his concern over his dying father, and breaks into hysterical laughter after he dies and she drops the spade full of dirt into his grave. A real sweetheart.
    Gerald's father meanwhile is presented as a gentle, compassionate man. The movie doesn't really explore the Freudian implications, but you have to think that Gerald's emotional predicament has a lot to do with his relationship with his mother.

    1. I'm with you in finding Gerald's deeply disturbed mother to be a fascinating character. And certainly for the reason you cite: she stands as an example of what kind of female influence he grew up under. I always envision that harridan of a mother of a certain illegitimate president to be a mother like Gerald's...only with less charm.
      The excellent Freudian point you made can also be applied to the fiery Gudrun's relationship with and perception of her mild-mannered (ineffectual to her eyes?) father.
      Her attraction to the brutish Gerald while he's drawn to a gentleness not in his nature certainly establishes a conflict of relationship objectives.

  17. Gee Ken - this marvelous essay is something I've missed previously. Never too late to catch up on some insightful writing!

    Of course the nude wrestling scene invites scrutiny, or at least it should. Once again we're confronted with what Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick makes quite clear (in "Between Men"): that homophobia apprehends male bonding from "going too far"; with "going too far" at one extreme end being a relationship which threatens the heterosexist power paradigms so consistently insisted on by societies, across centuries.

    It all falls to pieces the minute two men say "We don't need a woman."

    1. Wow - Thank you very much, Rick.
      And all you reference indicates to me that a film dealing as honestly as WOMEN IN LOVE with the core fear/attraction in male bonding has yet to be made.
      I know I certainly can't think of another title.

    2. Truth!

      How difficult could it be to dust off the script of Garbo's "Flesh And The Devil" (1927)and have the men still end up in each other's arms without them getting there via the misogynistic killing off of Felicitas?

      TOO difficult apparently...almost one hundred years later.

    3. I've never seen that one! Your scope of movie familiarity is remarkable, and the point you make is an good one. Just because movies eventually grew more explicit doesn't mean they still haven't got a lot of growing up to do.

    4. I'm 38 years old i & for many years i knew about Women In Love mainly for Glenda Jackson's Oscar win but never watched until a couple of days ago the film make me feel i was in the company of this 4 a whole life and the imagery is erotic & magnificent i look for reviews online & found your essay & i must say it is like honey in a pot a lighting in a bottle
      You seek the meaning of this story in a deep concious manner as sensual and interesting as the movie itself it really gives a sense of understanding & appreciation for the piece i really enjoy reading you greeting from latinamerica

    5. Hello, my new friend from Latin America! What a lovely compliment your words extend to me via this essay. Thank you so much. It's thrilling to know you've just seen "Women in Love" for the first time, mere days ago, and yet by your words it sounds as though it affected you much like it did me so many decades ago.
      It's heartening to know that to a young person's eyes, Ken' Russell's sumptuous imagery and sensuous storytelling still has the power to engage. I agree with you, this is an erotic and magnificent film.
      I'm so happy your search for movie reviews brought you to this site. And I feel fortunate that this comment section now has the contribution of you kind and thoughtful observations! Hope you visit again!