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Women in Love
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by Jay Seaver

"I don't care how straight you are - that scene's kind of hot."
4 stars

The title of Russell's Academy Award-nominated 1969 adaptation of the D.H. Lawrence novel refers to sisters Ursula and Gudrun Brangwen, but they don't receive first billing and it likely won't be either of their courtships that makes the biggest impression on the audience For that, you've got to look to Alan Bates and Oliver Reed.

But first, the ladies. Ursula (Jennie Linden) is a sweet if insecure schoolteacher who finds herself smitten by the school inspector, Rupert Birkin (Alan Bates). Glenda Jackson's Gudrun is the younger sister (though I didn't realize that until watching The Rainbow), a more cosmopolitan artist who attracts the attention of Rupert's friend Gerald Crich (Oliver Reed). The Crich family owns the mine that serves as the early twentieth-century English town's major industry, and it is mainly at functions thrown by his family that the quartet meet. But even as opposites are busily attracting, the two male friends can't help but discuss how good it is for a man to have other important people in their lives, aside from their young ladies.

Whether by happenstance or design, it is the chemistry between Bates and Reed that best grabs the viewer's attention. Scenes between Rupert and Ursula all too frequently involve Rupert disdaining the idea of conventional romance; he accedes to Gudrun's desire to marry. Gudrun often seems to have no room for compromise in her dealings with Gerald, and he can't help but see the differences in their social classes even when he protests otherwise. The conversations between Rupert and Gerald, though, are full of significant puases and and uncertain responses; while a man and a woman may play out familiar, even tired (to those who fancy themselves above such well-trod paths) rituals, for two men to acknowledge attraction is dangerous.

And, of course, there's the scene where they wrestle in the nude. It's not the cliché of two people staying close, or appearing to enjoy grabbing and holding a little too much. It's throwing each other across a darkened room, with the flickering firelight implying something secret but the atmosphere is unabashed and masculine. This is Russell's third feature (though he'd had a long apprenticeship in television), but he's very assured, showing great skill at composition and use of color - not so much the bright primary colors he'd later be known for, but excellent use of whites and lighter colors. He seems to have a good screenplay from Larry Kramer (I haven't read Lawrence's novel); Kramer and Russell are able to work sudden, jarring, surprises into the action without oversensationalizing what is essentially a very tightly-wound romantic drama.

Though Glenda Jackson won an Academy Award for Best Actress, the film seems to be Ursula's story for most of the running time. Jennie Linden does a fine job as the older sister, seeming destined for spinsterhood due to her timidity at the start, but growing stronger and more self-assured as the film goes on - compare her first scene in the classroom, where Rupert's presence seems to fluster her, to a later one where she is almost frighteningly aggressive. Ms. Jackson is, of course, exceptionally good, full of sharp responses and above-her-station class, and when she nakedly exposes a less pleasant side of Gudrun's personality in the last act, it's a little surprising, but fits her character perfectly in retrospect. Also noteworthy among the women is Eleanor Bron as a wealthy but vapid rival for Rupert's affections; she's as refinedly bitchy as only a proper young lady can be.

The men are opposite sides of the same coin. Alan Bates gives an easily underrated performance as Rupert, as the guy with all the lines about marriage being a compromise he doesn't want to make, analyzing love as if to disprove its existence. He does have his charm, though, drily flirting with Ursula in front of her class by commenting on the flower the children are to draw. He seems pleasant enough, but is difficult to get close to. Reed, on the other hand, is not told to hold much back, and when we first see him he's not easy to like - Gerald cutting hours and wages at the mine, telling his father to be less sentimental. But his passion for modernizing the business is matched by the fierce loyalty he shows to his friends and loved ones - he's devastated by a terrible turn his father's annual party takes.

I wasn't totally satisfied with the ending; the two pairings that seemed to be the most interesting (Ursula/Rupert and Gerald/Rupert) are taken out of the picture, and I get the idea that the last segment might have been a much more substantial part of the book. Still, getting a 500 page book down to two hours or so isn't easy, and it could have gone much worse.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=14702&reviewer=371
originally posted: 06/20/06 12:14:35
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User Comments

2/08/09 Eliot Orton This film, cinematicllly isn't much, but as DH Lawrence's philosophy, it makes sense. 4 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  25-Mar-1970 (R)
  DVD: 04-Mar-2003

UK
  01-Sep-1969 (15)

Australia
  25-Mar-1970 (M)


Directed by
  Ken Russell

Written by
  Larry Kramer

Cast
  Alan Bates
  Oliver Reed
  Glenda Jackson
  Jennie Linden
  Eleanor Bron
  Alan Webb
  Michael Gough



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