Delius - Song Of Summer

Delius - Song Of Summer


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

In a televisual world choc-a-block with soapy series like EastEnders, The Bill and Doctors, it seems hardly credible that there once existed a corporation that produced moving and compelling biographies of great composers which had the look and feel of cinematic films. Delius: Song of Summer is one such biopic, rich in detail and a gem for any collection.

Shot as part of a series of composer biographies by Ken Russell in the Sixties, the film charts the last few years of Delius's life, as seen through the eyes of his assistant, Eric Fenby. Delius (Max Adrian) is both paralysed and blind and it is this terrible plight which draws young musician and would-be-composer Fenby (Christopher Gable) to him.

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Hearing about Delius on the radio, Fenby writes to him offering his services to help complete several unfinished works. Upon his offer being accepted Fenby travels to Delius's home in France, where he finds himself trammelled to a regime and ruled over by a sickly tyrant. Delius inflicts his erratic moods and whims on a household stretched to near breaking-point, a household in which Fenby is to play a vital role for five years.

Russell's dramatisation is exceedingly accomplished. He manages to capture the ogrish attitude of Delius as he barks out orders while never losing sight of the creativity and genius lying within. We are able to feel empathy for a once great man and virile lover, now trapped inside a useless body, but with a mind still full of music he wishes to set down.

The relationship between the pagan Delius and the Catholic Fenby is fascinatingly depicted with superb acting from both Adrian and Gable (his first acting role). They are ably abetted by Maureen Pryor, as Delius's long-suffering spouse, Jelka, and David Collings, as Delius's athletic, eccentric friend and fellow composer, Percy Granger, who bursts into their home like a breath of fresh air. The household is supremely dysfunctional, a place of contrasting ideals, with rigourous and almost prissy rules adhered to, while nudes painted by famous artists cavort across the walls.

Russell handles the contrasts superbly. The film is shot in black-and-white with compassion and depth, so that the viewer feels moved by the experience of the characters as they try to make beautiful music together. The monochrome lends weight to the contrasts, highlighting the starkness of the situation and providing some lovely close-ups of the protagonists. Russell says on the accompanying director's commentary that this was his best film and although I haven't seen all his work, I suspect that is probably a fair assessment.

Reviewed on: 18 Jan 2002
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The last days of Delius, as seen through the eyes of his musical assistant, Eric Fenby.
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Director: Ken Russell

Writer: Eric Fenby, Ken Russell, based on Delius As I Knew Him by Eric Fenby

Starring: Max Adrian, Christopher Gable, Maureen Pryor, David Collings

Year: 1968

Runtime: 72 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: UK


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