As this 1969 film version of the celebrated DH Lawrence novel approaches its half century, the BFI's new blu-ray release is a timely reminder of why this is considered to be one of greatest literary adaptations of all time.
In post WW1 Midlands, middle class sisters
Gudrun and Ursula (Glenda Jackson and Jennie Linden) embark on affairs with
upper class friends Gerald and Rupert (Oliver Reed and Alan Bates). Following their courtships, during which the
couples talk about and explore the nature of love and sex, they all go on
holiday to the Swiss Alps where things for all four people take dramatic turns.
The plot is played out against a backdrop in which class distinctions and the male dominated basis of society are on the verge of forever changing. The relationships between these people reveal what it is to need love, to seek it, to lose it, to confuse it with lust, showing what it's like to be women in love in a world where men seem to have all of the power. But do they?
Women In Love is a remarkable film on so many levels. Directed by Ken Russell, it may be one of his earliest features and least excessive but it remains one of his finest achievements. Alongside the likes of The Devils and Altered States, it cements him as one of our greatest and most distinctive film makers. Visually, the film stuns with images of absolute beauty, sublime editing and sequences like Jackson's dance amongst the cows, the hilarious performance 'in the style of the Russian ballet' (Eleanor Bron stealing every scene she's in), and the infamous nude wrestling scene between Bates and Reed which you watch trance-fixed. It seduces utterly in its sensuality.
The performances are exemplary throughout. It's Glenda Jackson who won an Oscar for her role as Gudrun, a woman whose self discovery proves her to be the most dominant of the four, but she's more than matched by Linden, Bates and a quite amazingly controlled Oliver Reed who gives perhaps the finest performances of his career. Gerald's seemingly controlled and confident life masks a muddy lake of repression and Reed excels at portraying Gerald's inner turmoil.
It was a ground breaking film, pushing the
boundaries of what censors would allow. For many, Alan Bates wandering naked
and beautiful through a forest would have been the first time they'd seen
frontal male nudity on screen and, in the aforementioned wrestling scene, where
Bates and Reed strip in front of a roaring fire and wrestle in ever
increasingly sweaty and violent shots, the notions of male love and
homosexuality are dealt with both erotically and sensitively, their bout
followed by a conversation about male love being as pure as that between a man
and a woman.
Sensual, emotional, challenging and intellectually stimulating, it remains one of the most powerful scenes in cinema. You still watch it agape, completely unable to imagine any major film stars today embarking on such a scene.
Such is the obvious commitment to the project from its stars, its director and as shown in the remarkable adaptation by Larry Kramer, that not only is Women In Love one of cinema's truly great films, it's one which elevates its celebrated source novel.
An absolutely ravishing masterpiece and
essential viewing for anyone who loves cinema.
WOMEN IN LOVE / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: KEN RUSSELL / SCREENPLAY: LARRY KRAMER / STARRING: ALAN BATES, OLIVIER REED, GLENDA JACKSON, JENNIE LINDEN / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW