Women in Love (1970)

Women in Love Women in Love Women in Love Women in Love poster
“Women in Love,” based on D.H. Lawrence’s novel, is arguably the most fully realized picture the British enfant terrible Ken Russell has made in his 50-year career. The movie is still his most critically acclaimed and commercially accessible work.
 
Russell made his first feature film, “French Dressing,” in 1963, but he burst upon the international scene in 1970 with his lavish production of D. H. Lawrence’s “Women in Love,” based on an Oscar-nominated adaptation by Larry Kramer (later better known as an AIDS activist). Kramer deviates substantially from Lawrence’s dense text, whose focus is a dissection of the characters’ inner lives. Nonetheless, he substitutes with an intelligent tale, which, while lacking Lawrence’s in-depth portraiture and subtlety of tone, is compelling in its own right.
 
“Women I Love” tells a deliriously romantic saga, well-acted tale by a wonderful ensemble of four thespians, all at their most appealing: Alan Bates, Oliver Reed, Glenda Jackson, and Jennie Linden.
 
Most of Russell’s films are too coarse, excessive, flamboyant, and confusing, but they are often filled with a creative energy that sustains dramatic interest. In hindsight, placed against Russell’s later work, “Women in Love” seems surprisingly tame, elegant, and even conventional. However, if you look closely, you can detect the excessive flourishes beneath the surface, such as a nude wrestling scene between the two male protagonists (see below).
 
In an Oscar-winning turn, Glenda Jackson plays Gudrun Brangwen, an intensely intellectual woman living in a small mining town with her sister Ursula (Jennie Linden). Gudrun falls in love with a mine owner, Gerald Crich (Oliver Reed) and Ursula with a school teacher (Alan Bates). The film depicts the evolution and devolution of these relationships, including the destructiveness of the Gudrun-Crich bond, which ultimately leads to his death 
 
As noted, the full frontal nudity of a wrestling scene between Oliver Reed and Alan Bates, which threw the film off balance, achieved notoriety and indicated for things to come in future Russell films.
 
Handsomely mounted, there’s sharp imagery by ace lenser Billy Williams, who later won an Oscar for the biopic “Gandhi” (1982).  The film is enjoyable and engaging, boasting polished production values, including Luciana Arrigi’s art direction and Shirley Russell’s costume design.
 
Oscar Nominations: 4
 
Director: Ken Russell
Actress: Glenda Jackson
Screenplay (Adapted) Larry Kramer
Cinematography: Billy Williams
 
Oscar Awards: 1
 
Actress
 
Oscar Context:
 
The winner of the Best Director was Franklin J. Schaffner for the military biopic, “Patton,” which also also won Best Picture. Ring Lardner Jr. won the Adapted Screenplay Award for M.A.S.H. directed by Altman.
 
Freddie Young won the Cinematography Oscar for David Lean’s romantic epic, “Ryan’s Daughter.”
 
About Ken Russell
 
Born in Born on July 3, 1927, in Southampton, England, Ken Russell began his career at the UK’s BBC TV, producing some controversial series.
 
A graduate of the Nautical College, he joined the British merchant navy in 1945 and served with the RAF from 1946 to 1949. In 1950, shunning the family shoe business, he joined a ballet company as a dancer and the following year the Garrick Players as an actor. After training in photography at the Southampton Technical College, he became a free-lance still photographer. In the late 50s he made several amateur short films, among them Amelia and the Angel (1957), Peep Show (1958), and Lourdes (1958), which paved his way to free-lance assignments with BBC-TV as producer and director of programs dealing with the arts. After turning out several TV shows about contemporary artists, he delighted, stunned, and upset BBC viewers with a series of fictionalized biographies of such famous composers as Elgar, Prokofiev, Debussy, Bartok, Delius, and Richard Strauss, and the dancer Isadora Duncan.
 
These TV films have been noted for their originality, imagination, extravagance, attention to period detail, mixture of fact and fantasy, an interest in char­acter psychology, rich imagery, and bold self?indulgence??ele­ments that have also characterized Russell’s theatrical films.
 
For four decades, he has remained a controversial figure in British cinema, buildings reputation for flamboyance, unpredictability, and excesses.
 
Following the commercial success of “Women in Love,” he found backing for his sensational biography of Tchaikovksy, “The Music Lovers” (1971), which he described as a “love story between a homosexual and a nymphomaniac.”
 
He courted greater controversy with “The Devils” (1971), his visually exciting overblown screen version of Aldous Huxley’s “The Devils of Loudun.” The film was released in a trimmed?down version under pressure from British censors.   Russell courted yet another con­troversy in 1991, with the release of “Whore,” a highly unappealing and unglamorous look at prostitutes’ lives, which received the rating of NC-17.