Title: Women in Love
Language: English, German
Genre: Drama, Romance
Director: Ken Russell
Screenwriter: Larry Kramer
based on the novel by D.H. Lawrence
Music: Georges Delerue
Cinematography: Billy Williams
Michael Graham Cox
Transposing D.H. Lawrence’s self-absorbed amatory-philosophizing 1920 novel onto the silver screen under the able hands of Larry Kramer, UK maverick Ken Russell’s third feature WOMEN IN LOVE is an imposing work espousing Lawrence’s modern take on gender politics and bisexuality.
During the interwar years in a British mining town Beldover, a quartet of personages is constituted by two mews-dwelling sisters, Ursula and Gudrun Brangwen (Lunden and Jackson), and two best friends, Rupert Birkin (Bates) and Gerald Crich (Reed). The artistic Gudrun, who is a sculptress, takes a shine to Gerald, the scion of the town’s mine owner, whereas a more down-home Ursula, a school teacher by profession, strikes a romance with the idealist Rupert, but not before he can dissolve his liaison with the stuck-up, snooty Hermione Roddice (Buon).
Inhabiting the movie’s sumptuous period settings (bucolic exterior alternating with silk-stocking interior), these two relationships mirror and counterpoise each other. The Rupert-Ursula union typifies the more earthly, hetero-normative monogamy (but with a catch) where a self-professed bachelor is finally enticed into matrimony by a sweet, unpretentious maiden, attested by her bumper affection disguised in the form of jealousy. Russell incisively signposts their first delirious copulation alfresco (aberrantly treated with frantic editing and uncanny cacophony) with the juxtaposition of two dead bodies of a prior tragedy, mortality looms large in the shadows of bodily pleasure, and their union is consummated in the coalescence of both characters embracing with a vertical composition requires some head-tilting.
The knottier one falls onto the Gudrun-Gerald dynanism, Gerald’s ability to love is irrevocably crippled by his old money parentage and its cursed kismet, especially through the put-downs from his vitriolic mother (Willmer), and in a female-empowering fashion, Gudrun manfully takes him in when he is most vulnerable after being buffeted by bereavements, but she is clearly aware that this act of passion is not stemmed from love but a pall of profound pity, even if Gerald is a quintessential virile alpha male specimen, he is not right for her (Russell nimbly hammers home that she does try to love him, but there is something immanently amiss between them, not least her abysmal fear of being throttled by his temperamental aggressiveness), it is this unflinching mind-over-body transcendence impels her to befriend a gay German sculptor Loerke (a galvanizing Sheybal go the whole hog of effeteness) during their doomed Alps vacation, and precipitates a jealousy-driven Gerald to the extremes, if he cannot bring himself to kill her, he must kill someone else. The shocking candidness in revealing this warped psycho-sexual cruelty is way out of its time, however, in her first Oscar-winning role, Jackson mesmerically abandons herself in Gudrun’s flights of bluntness, caprice and spontaneity, ushers in a new prototype of liberated femininity on the screen, that is unseen before.
Furthermore, to make things more intricate (this is where the catch lies), Russell stages the notoriously members-baring, homoerotic Japanese-style wrestling bravura between Rupert and Gerald to issue the former’s swinging-both-ways plea, and both actors muster up great gusto in their gob-smacking action, while Reed’s extraordinarily fierce glare seldom lets down Gerald’s guard, Bates, by comparison, burnishes a more well-adjusted representation of Rupert’s unapologetically modernistic mind-set, both are intrepid in terms of what their characters ask them to perform. Last among the central foursome, newcomer Lunden is given a less meatier role to handle, but proves she can turn heads if she wills with her fervid outpourings when the sylvan clincher arrives.
When all is said and done, WOMEN IN LOVE should be incontrovertibly enshrined as Russell’s jewel in the crown, an avant-garde treatise on that little, elusive thing called “love” with a very fine tooth comb, gleaming with all of Russell’s outrageous, fiendishly stirring antics.