Women in Love September 8, 2018
2 Hrs., 10 Mins.
The year is 1920; the setting is Beldover, a mining town. (The movie, though, will come to locale-hop with Lara Croft-style frequency.) The men are at Hermione’s palatial estate in the aftermath of the wedding of Gerald’s baby sister, Laura (Sharon Gurney). There, too, are the sisters Ursula and Gudrun (Jennie Linden and Glenda Jackson), who, during the ceremony, found themselves enamored of Rupert and Gerald, respectively, from afar. Affairs will begin by the time this post-wedding get-together comes to an end. Rupert and Ursula’s comes close to actualizing the former’s idyll; Gerald and Gundrun’s, by contrast, grows progressively fractured.
Women in Love (1969), a tousled, fun-until-it-isn’t-anymore period piece, moves about with erotic zest. Like Mike Nichols’ Carnal Knowledge (1971), another intellectual “relationship movie," its examination of modern romance is increasingly pedantic, almost scholarly.
Not conventionally fixated on the intricacies of a relationship or skin-to-skin contact as a premier kick — though both points of intrigue are electrically, and readily, displayed — the film undermines notions of the much-sought-after oasis that is “true” love, and wonders how one’s neuroses, and the social mores which inform many of them, can contaminate the most steady seeming of a relationship. Like a screwball comedy, it additionally finds a certain thrill in prodding at gender dynamics. Best of all is its dressing down of the conservative, age-old undercutting of emotionally driven male-male friendships, romances.
Women in Love is charged. But its fever has less to do with the fascinating uncertainties of Larry Kramer’s fetchingly florid screenplay and more to do with Ken Russell's direction, which is characteristically hyperactive. Another filmmaker might let the heady material, loosely based off a subversive D.H. Lawrence novel from 1920, speak for itself. But Russell, who’s passionate about the wonders of elliptic camerawork and the emphasizing of cockeyed humor, is bent on outdoing, stylistically, that is, the eccentricities and sensibilities of this nonconformist set of characters.
Retrospectively, the director's recognizable idiosyncrasy has been oft-criticized for its predilection for self-indulgence. But here, it's complementary: it allows us to both enjoy the feature as a particularly madcap farce and a meaningful looking into the built-in complications that come with an imperfect, impulse-driven romance.
Ultimately, the movie is more cerebral than it is emotional, but it’s absorbing all the same. There is a joy to be found in Russell’s rhapsodic direction, of course, though it’s the sublime ensemble, who chew on the ornate dialogue like Jack Link’s highest sellers, that make for Women in Love’s supreme pleasure. Linden and Jackson’s performances are saturated with startling wit and energy; Reed and Bates, who famously take part in a sweaty, buck-naked, fireplace-lit wrestling match partway through the film, are incendiary and persuasively hot-blooded. They, and the overarching feature, have more vigor than a 131-minute movie can really handle. Yet restlessness, both performatively and psychically, is, for once, appealing, not exhausting. B+
want to sit with my beloved in a field, with daisies growing all around us.” Waxing romantic poetic is Rupert (Alan Bates); sitting across from him is Gerald (Oliver Reed), who’s just asked his listening companion what he really wants in life. Rupert is currently in a relationship with the priggish society type Hermione (Eleanor Bron), a woman with whom he, troublingly, more and more cannot imagine having this daisy-decorated dalliance. At the moment, Gerald's single, but knows the appeal of such a fantasy.