Women in Love (1969)
“One has a hankering after a sort of further fellowship.”
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
Response to Peary’s Review:
“Meanwhile, Ursula [Linden] and Birkin [Bates], who are more romantic and simpler, grow closer together” and “are seemingly the perfect couple because they love each other equally and each has equal standing in the relationship”:
(However, the film’s final scene and image belie this easy interpretation.)
Peary adds that “when the characters make love, especially outdoors, the ‘animal’ analogy is obvious; but it’s interesting to watch how Russell keeps them involved in other physical activities when they’re not having sex — they spend much time dancing:
… they swim, they go sledding, they roll in the snow:
… there is slapping, there is fighting, some men are even knocked down by attack dogs.”
Peary notes that “the performances by the four leads are quite strong… and they are to be commended for appearing in [adult-rated] love scenes when stars of that era were reluctant to do so.” However, he asserts that “from a director’s standpoint, the nude fight scene between Birkin and Gerald:
… and the scene in which the nude Birkin and Ursula run toward each other and Russell turns their images within the frame so that they’re horizontal are shamefully pretentious.”
(The latter might possibly be so, but I disagree about the former, which is a masterfully filmed, oft-discussed and provocative sequence.)
Peary adds that “worse still is Gudrun’s improvisational outdoor dance” — though I’m not exactly sure why he takes issue with it:
In Alternate Oscars, Peary agrees with the Academy in naming Jackson Best Actress of the Year, noting that “Jackson impressed everyone, including [him] in 1970, because she was much different from other leading actresses of the day… [She] came across as extremely intelligent, forceful, defiant, and witty, and could convincingly play women with similar traits without turning off viewers to herself or the characters.” He asserts that while “in the past, viewers rarely warmed to intellectual female characters,” “Jackson showed that brainy women like Gudrun are capable of tremendous passion, even heightened sexuality because of their curiosity.”
He writes that “Jackson gives a bold performance, making no attempt to cover those traits that might diminish Gudrun’s appeal. Apart from barroom floozies in Westerns and B melodramas, Gudrun is one of the few sympathetic female leads with more than a touch of arrogance. She isn’t just highly spirited or headstrong or even aloof — she is arrogant.”
However, Peary asserts that “this doesn’t come aross as meanness… or condescension. It comes across in her refusal to conform or compromise; or — and this drives macho men like Gerald crazy — to reveal her weaknesses or dependence on men.”
While this unusual film isn’t for all tastes, Russell exhibits enough innovation and creativity to recommend it for one-time viewing — and Jackson’s strong performance is indeed worth a watch.
Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:
One thought on “Women in Love (1969)”
If ffs see no other Ken Russell film (though true ffs will see at least a number of them), they must see this one. It’s his best – most mature, most fully realized – work (running quite close with ‘The Devils’ and ‘The Boy Friend’).
I’ve seen this film quite a few times; it seems I still give it a rewatch generally once a year (and have upgraded to the blu-ray). It’s a film that has much to offer on repeat viewings.
I finally read the Lawrence novel 7 years ago – before my first watch of the blu-ray. I was sort of astonished by how skillfully Larry Kramer adapted the book – no small task, since the book is quite dense; indeed, one must sift through carefully in order to appreciate the main relationships: D.H. does get carried away any number of times. This is one case in which I’d argue that the film is better.
The four main actors are in top form and are fascinating to observe (and Eleanor Bron, as Hermione, is a standout in the supporting cast).
Special mention: the superb costuming by Shirley Russell.
I can’t really fault the film for any reason – a masterpiece.
My review of the novel: