That Whole Ken Russell/D H Lawrence Thing

Wednesday 30th November

I really hadn’t meant to write about films two days running, but I had already planned and started writing yesterday’s blog ‘The French Lieutenants Woman’ when I heard on the news that Ken Russell had died.  Well, he was eighty-four, and I suppose he must have had a good life – at least he made a lot of films, though like writers and artists everywhere, maybe he ended his days thinking he had made the wrong ones.

I was never a big fan of Ken Russell; I had seen a couple of those early docu-drama’s on BBC2 in the sixties, and beautifully filmed as they were, I found them overblown and more than somewhat exaggerated; why should the fact that someone composes extraordinary music mean that their lives are really so extraordinary, it just doesn’t follow. Also before meeting Adrian I had never read any D H Lawrence, another writer who seemed to be caught up in the whole sixties artistic revival, along with my own Virginia Woolf.  Adrian was fanatical about him, and had read everything of his, from Aarons Rod to Sea and Sardinia, he had them all lined up in uniform Penguin paperbacks on his bookshelf.  I was dragged along to see the Ken Russell directed “Women in Love”, which I attempted to read after seeing the film – but I found it all a bit preposterous, and Lawrence’s passionate writing never quite stirred my heart into flames.  The film was good though, and cinematically a triumph, I found it a bit confusing having not already read the book, and some of the scenes such as the London Salon where Hermione dances like a possessed dervish and the famous scene of Alan Bates and Oliver Reed wrestling in the nude with their bits flopping about were not exactly helpful in telling the story.  Adrian loved the film more than I did, and had already seen it, so irritatingly kept telling me ‘this is a really good bit coming now”, and spoiling it slightly for me.  We also saw the Music Lovers, which was another Ken Russell film about Tchaikovsky, never my favourite composer, but at least I knew some of the music in the film.  This started off quite well, but again veered off into the ridiculous, especially in the 1812 Overture, where heads were actually being blown off by cannonballs, and I must admit that the sight of Glenda Jackson’s pubic hair is not a sight I wish to see again, quite unnecessary I felt.

I have never watched any of Ken Russell’s later films, the reviewers seemed to feel he was becoming more and more ridiculous with each release, and the Devils was universally slated.  I never read any other books by D H Lawrence either, and don’t expect to, but I did watch ‘Women in Love’ when it was shown again on BBC2 a few years back.  All the memories of Adrian came flooding back, and it was as if we were still sitting in that little picture house in East Finchley, the Pheonix it was called, on a warm summer evening in nineteen seventy-two, as the story of Ursula and Gudrun unfolded before us.

A magical time, and one we seldom repeated, so my heart always skips a tiny beat when I think about that whole Ken Russell/D H Lawrence thing.