“I wanted marriage — without a wife.”
Peter Tchaikovsky (Richard Chamberlain) tries to deny his homosexuality by marrying a socially ambitious young woman (Glenda Jackson), but soon finds himself miserable and unable to compose.
Ken Russell’s flamboyant biopic of Peter Tchaikovsky is based on true events, but takes great liberty with details. Indeed, Russell seems most concerned with chronicling the emotional highs and lows of Tchaikovsky’s tortured life, primarily focusing on the ways in which his desire to conform to societal expectations — by marrying, rather than continuing his dalliances with young men — wreaked havoc on both his personal and creative life. Critics at the time of the film’s release were unimpressed, completely missing the point of Russell’s vision; nowadays, audience members accustomed to “creative” imaginings of artists’ lives may well have more tolerance for The Music Lovers, which remains a heady, visually sumptuous experience, one which successfully portrays the havoc wreaked on both husband and wife when marriage is based on pretense rather than authentic desire. Richard Chamberlain is perfectly cast as Tchaikovsky (especially given what we now know about his own closeted homosexuality), and his piano playing (while dubbed by a professional) is truly impressive. Glenda Jackson nearly steals the show, however, as Tchaikovsky’s ambitious, mentally unstable wife who simply can’t understand why her husband has no desire to make love to her.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Richard Chamberlain as Tchaikovsky
- Glenda Jackson as Tchaikovsky’s wife in-name-only
- The powerful, fantasy-laden opening concert sequence
- An astute look at Tchaikovsky’s tormented sexuality
- Sumptuous set designs and costumes
- The hilarious “camera obscura” scene
Yes, as a prime example of Ken Russell’s inimitable biopic style. Listed as a cult movie in the back of Peary’s book.