Eye For Film >> Movies >> Women In Love (1969) Film Review
If anyone knows anything about Ken Russell's Women in Love, it is that Oliver Reed and Alan Bates get naked and sweaty together in front of a roaring fire. But no, it's not porn; its art. Seriously, the infamous wrestling scene might sound erotic, but it is actually an integral part of the plot. Really.
Russell's adaptation of D H Lawrence's complex novel is faithful and powerful, dealing with difficult themes and characters in a poignant and moving way. Applicable as much to the Sixties as it was when Lawrence set the novel, at the turn of the 19th century, it focuses on the roles women traditionally have, the choices they make and how by questioning and contradicting them they control their own destiny. Cue a lot of dialogue between well-to-do folk about boredom, spontaneity, love and the soul. But it is not as dull as I am making it sound. In fact, it is rather good.
Following the Brangwen sisters, Ursula (Jennie Linden) and Gudrun (Glenda Jackson), as they explore romance, love and passion with their suitors, the film presents two very different, but equally strong, female characters who certainly seem far more able to express their emotions than Rupert (Bates) and Gerald (Reed), their respective other halves.
Jackson delivers an extraordinary performance in a difficult role, worthy of the Oscar she won for the part. She succeeds in invoking sympathy for an inherently dislikeable character; true also of Reed's Gerald Crouch, whose cold, loveless exterior hides a tortured soul for whom Gudrun's infidelity is his ultimate downfall.
The interaction of the four characters carries the narrative well, but what makes the film really entertaining is the almost mocking tone that Russell employs when constructing their world. The dancing, soliloquising and random throwing open of arms in exclamation seems self indulgent and silly when juxtaposed with the struggles of the workers who have created the wealth and lifestyle which the socialites spend their days lamenting. By making them seem shallow, frivolous and foolish, the director subtly questions high society's right to demand more from life by contrasting them with the very people who truly deserve to make such demands.
Aside from the dancing in front of cows and running naked through fields, the film is enjoyable for it's beauty, whether the grandeur of the Crouch's family home, the dirty realism of the mining town, where the first half of the film is set, or the impossibly white snowy terrain of the Austrian Alps, where things start to go wrong. The contrast between Gudrun and Ursula's outlook on love is emphasised by the nature of their relationships, but Russell doesn't offer any answers; instead, he brings Lawrence's sentiments to life by presenting many alternative interpretations, which includes the naked wrestling match, seen as a tool to illustrate the bond between two men - one of the many different kinds of love that the film explores. And the sculpted beauty of the close ups, accompanied by a powerful classical score, really does elevate this to art - not porn.
Whether a fan of Lawrence, or not, Women In Love is a truly enjoyable experience and not, as I have painstakingly pointed out, because Reed and Bates get their kit off. If you enjoy being challenged by a movie, this is for you. I guarantee it will have you thinking and talking long after the credits have rolled.Reviewed on: 29 Nov 2004
Related Articles:In the court of the enfant terrible