“Masterful Adaptation From a Master of Cinema”
Ken Russell’s third film (after 1963‘s FRENCH DRESSING and 1967’s BILLION DOLLAR BRAIN) but perhaps the first cinema feature film that can be considered truly Ken, gets a restoration Blu-ray release courtesy of the BFI.
England, 1920. The country is still reeling from the effects of the first world war. Two sisters, Gudrun (Glenda Jackson) and Ursula (Jennie Linden) form relationships with Gerald Crich (Oliver Reed) and Rupert Birkin (Alan Bates) respectively. The story charts the course, evolution and interactions of these two very different couples (and four very different people) against two main backdrops: England and the Alps, with a happy ending for one and a not so happy resolution for the other.
Considered by many to be Ken Russell’s best film, I’m going to candidly admit here that I prefer his more flamboyantly unrestrained work in films such as THE DEVILS. WOMEN IN LOVE is Russell on the cusp of the unfettered cinematic career he was about to embark on, and it is likely the restraint he exhibits in adapting D H Lawrence’s source novel (he rewrote quite a bit of producer Larry Kramer’s screenplay) that makes this movie perhaps just that bit more accessible than his later work.
That’s not to say WOMEN IN LOVE isn’t brimming with life. Contrasting with the grimy collieries that Reed’s Gerald will inherit, Russell has Bates’ Birkin celebrating the vitality of the English countryside with a sensuality that borders on Russell being the cinematic equivalent of Welsh writer Arthur Machen. One wonders what the director would have made of The Great God Pan and other stories.
Of course, the success of WOMEN IN LOVE isn’t just because of Ken Russell. The movie boasts a remarkable quartet of performances - subtle, nuanced and pitched just right, and it would be unfair to single out Glenda Jackson even though she was the only one to win an Oscar. All the leads here are arguably at their career best, and there’s sterling work from a supporting cast that includes Eleanor Bron at her most Bohemian, Vladek Sheybal at his most rodent-like, and Michael Gough doing the sensible thing of being quietly understated as the girls’ father.
The BFI’s 4k restoration looks splendid, making the location switches from industrialisation to the English countryside to Switzerland all the more striking, with the Alps glittering with almost painful acuity. Ported over from previous DVD releases are an audio commentary by Russell and another by Larry Kramer. New to this edition is a 49 minute conversation between WOMEN IN LOVE DP Billy Williams and DP Phil Meheux. SECOND BEST is a rare 1972 short film starring Alan Bates that’s a contemporary adaptation of a D H Lawrence story. There’s a lengthy audio interview with Glenda Jackson at the NFT from 1982, as well as a short profile of her from 1971. Finally, there’s a booklet with an excellent essay on the film by Michael Brooke as well as a piece on the costume design in the film and a short Russell bio.
Ken Russell's WOMEN IN LOVE is coming out on UK Blu-ray from the BFI on Monday 22nd August 2016