Sons and Lovers (1960)

Sons and Lovers (1960)

“I don’t want you wasting yourself instead of finding your place in the world.”

A budding artist (Dean Stockwell) with an alcoholic father (Trevor Howard) and an emotionally manipulative mother (Wendy Hiller) rejects an offer from an elderly art patron (Ernest Thesiger) to move to London to study, instead romancing his local sweetheart (Heather Sears), then moving on to an affair with a married-but-separated suffragette (Mary Ure) at his new workplace.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Artists
  • Coming-of-Age
  • Dean Stockwell Films
  • Donald Pleasence Films
  • Sexuality
  • Trevor Howard Films
  • Wendy Hiller Films

Cinematographer Jack Cardiff helmed this beautifully shot (by DP Freddie Francis) adaptation of D.H. Lawrence’s semi-autobiographical 1913 novel. Unfortunately, while the location shooting in Nottingham, England is lovely:

… the storyline implies a prior familiarity with the novel, given that characters are only loosely fleshed out and there is clearly much more to their situations than we’re privy to here. The morbidly unhealthy relationship between Hiller and Stockwell, for instance, hints at deep dysfunction but never goes beyond her surface comments to him:

Meanwhile, Stockwell’s artistic aspirations are hardly given any screentime, and his rejection of Thesiger’s offer in favor of staying at home to care for his mother doesn’t make sense given all her talk about wanting him to go and make something of himself. (We can surmise that she’s actually quite happy to keep him pinned to her apron-strings, but this isn’t made sufficiently evident.)

The same is true for the brief glimpses we see of Sears interacting with her puritanical, sex-shaming mother (Rosalie Crutchley):

Indeed, Sears’ interesting character is not given enough weight or time, with the majority of romantic scenes involving Ure instead:

The film’s best performance comes from Oscar-winning Howard as Stockwell’s mercurial coal-mining father — a man who takes great pride in his career, and erupts in alcoholic rage when his value and status are questioned. We can sense how infuriating it is for him to be married to Hiller, yet how deeply he relies on her for companionship and care.

Note: Watch for Donald Pleasence in a small role as Stockwell’s new employer:

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Trevor Howard as Walter Morel
  • Freddie Francis’s cinematography

Must See?
No; you can skip this one.


One thought on “Sons and Lovers (1960)

  1. First viewing. A once-must, for its place in British cinema history and its effectiveness as a drama (largely thanks to Cardiff’s direction and Francis’ camerawork).

    I’m in general disagreement with the assessment. I read the Lawrence novel years ago; I don’t feel that an understanding of the film hinges on having read the book – the plot and character points are all rather clear. While I can’t recall the novel in detail, it’s easy-enough to notice (by way of the dialogue) a number of instances that telegraph Lawrence’s POV.

    The performances strive for a balanced realism and, in that way, make the film compelling. The reality of the characters is never less than relatable. (I rather like the small touches by Thesiger and Pleasence; horror fans will note Crutchley, who a few years later turned up as the eerie Mrs. Dudley in ‘The Haunting’.)

    A satisfying film experience on all counts.

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