Russell’s controversial but widely-acclaimed adaptation of D. H. Lawrence’s
novel, Women in Love, might have had
a better and more appropriate title—Men
in Love. While touted as being an examination of the nature of love and
sexuality between two men and two women, in the end we are left with the more
potent notion that there is a love that can exist between two males—as friends—that is more powerful and
“eternal” than the love a man will have for a woman.
in 1969 in Britain and in 1970 in the U.S. (hence, its four Oscar nominations
for the year 1970), Women in Love has
not aged well in terms of its arty and borderline pretentious direction… but as
I tell my Film History students, “judge a film within the context of when it
was released.” In that regard, Women was
a groundbreaking and daring motion picture of its time. In the U.S. it played
only in the big city art house theaters, probably due to its frank nudity (both
female and male—one of the first
mainstream pictures to feature full frontal men in the raw) and subject matter.
the early 1920s in the English countryside, where class standing is very much a
thing; but a movement is afoot for the emancipation of women, free-thinking,
avant-garde art, and the breaking of social taboos. While the story focuses on
four characters—Rupert (Alan Bates), Gerald (Oliver Reed), Gudrun (Glenda
Jackson), and Ursula (Jennie Linden)—the “protagonist,” as it were, is Rupert.
In fact, it is how he approaches his relationships with his best friend Gerald
and the woman he eventually marries, Ursula, that is the crux of the story.
Jackson, however, won the Best Actress Oscar as the free-spirited,
take-no-prisoners Gudrun in what is honestly a supporting role in the story.
This statement is not meant to take away from her engaging, charismatic
performance—she’s terrific. There is no question that she steals the movie. But
Linden has more screen time as her younger, more conservative sister.
made the film a cause célèbre at the time was the
much-talked-about nude wrestling scene between Bates and Reed—which, apparently,
they had to talk Russell in to filming because they were keen to do it. Beautifully
shot by Oscar-nominated Billy Williams, the rumble in an English manor study by
firelight rightly is a remarkable piece of cinema.
Russell received his only directing Oscar nomination for the film. Some might
watch it today and think that his work—and the acting as well—is over-the-top.
The truth is that Russell intentionally stylized
the movie with a heightened realism that matches the passion and intensity
of its subject matter. This is a picture in which style and substance are
notched up to eleven. Russell, in his later career, would often be accused of extravagance
and pretentiousness—but here, Women in
Love is relatively tame in comparison.
gorgeous period piece with heady dialogue, editing influenced by the French New
Wave, lovely costumes, and beautiful scenery, is showcased by the Criterion
Collection’s new restored 4K digital transfer with an uncompressed monaural
include two different commentaries from 2003 (one by Russell, one by
producer/screenwriter Larry Kramer); new interviews with DP Billy Williams and
editor Michael Bradswell; vintage interviews with Russell and Jackson; an
interesting on-location piece featuring Bates, Linden, and Kramer; and the
most striking supplement is Russell’s own biopic autobiography, A British Picture—Portrait of an Enfant
Terrible (1989), a bizarre but fun piece in which a little boy plays
Russell throughout the years, even when Russell is an adult. Another
interesting, but less successful, inclusion is a 1972 short film, Second Best, based on a D. H. Lawrence
short story, produced by and starring Bates. The booklet features an essay by
scholar Linda Ruth Williams.
English, and literature buffs will certainly appreciate Women in Love. For those willing to position it in its appropriate
historical place, it’s a scrumptious and sensual delight.