Directed by Ken Russell and adapted by screenwriter Larry Kramer from the D.H. Lawrence novel of the same name, 1969's Women In Love is set in the small English mining town of Beldover in 1920. Here two sisters, a school teacher named Ursula (Jennie Linden) and an artist named Gudrun Brangwen (Glenda Jackson), attend a wedding that mine owner Thomas Crich (Alan Webb) hosts for his daughter, Laura (Sharon Gurney), who is to be betrothed to Tibby Lupton (Christopher Gable). Here Gudrun becomes quite smitten with Laura's brother, Gerald (Oliver Reed) and Ursula by his friend Rupert Birkin (Alan Bates), who once inspected her class room as part of his job.
Sometime after the wedding has passed, Hermione Roddice (Eleanor Bron) hosts a party. The two sisters sand their new male friends all coalesce here, while Hermione's own past with Rupert causes some drama. As the relationships between the core characters evolve, Rupert talks Gerald into wrestling, sans clothes and by some rather romantic firelight (by far the film's most notorious scene!), only to then engage in a rather involved discussion about relationships. Eventually Rupert marries Ursula while Gerald and Gudrun carry on a fairly torrid affair. When the quartet winds up traveling to Switzerland to celebrate the new marriage, Rupert and Ursula draw closer while Gerald and Gudrun have trouble making the same sort of connection.
Quite adored by critics at the time, the film was nominated for four Oscars (Best Cinematography, Best Director and ‘Best Writing For A Screenplay Based On Material From Another Medium') with Jackson actually taking home the trophy for her nod as Best Actress. And really, it is the performances along with Russell's penchant for euphoric visuals that make this worth seeing. As an actual narrative the film is surprisingly aloof. It plays more as a series of set pieces in which the characters seem to simply philosophize about the meaning and the merits of love and relationships rather than a traditional story with a beginning, a middle and an end. If you look at it as a character study of sorts, however, it's pretty interesting. The dialogue is heady, clever, and well written and it is definitely in keeping with the book that inspired it.
As to the cast, Reed is in very fine form here. He doesn't overdo it as he could become somewhat infamous for in the years to come, but rather he crafts an interesting and multilayered character. His Gerald's relationship with best friend Rupert is just as important to the proceedings as his relationship to lady friend Gudrun. As such, Bates' work as the second male lead in the film is also important. Thankfully he delivers too, and while the infamous wrestling scene will still make most viewers raise an eyebrow as to what it's really getting at, the two actors are both very convincing and entertaining to watch. Jennie Linden also does great work here, bringing an odd sense of vulnerability to a few key scenes to make them more memorable than they would have been otherwise. Oscar winner Glenda Jackson is just as good as you'd expect as well, not only a very beautiful woman but quite capable of delivering truly excellent work in front of the camera. Supporting work from Christopher Gable and Eleanor Bron is solid and Michael Gough pops up here in a small part as well, which always adds a bit of class to any project.The Blu-ray
Women In Love looks excellent on Blu-ray from The BFI, transferred from a ‘new 4K restoration by the BFI National Archive' offered up in a 1.75.1 widescreen transfer in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. While some small specks pop up here and there you're not going to notice anything stronger than that in terms of print damage, the image is pretty much pristine. While the expected amount of film grain is present it isn't intrusive or distracting and it never gets swarmy or clumps up. Colors are beautifully reproduced here and black levels are inky black without producing any issues with crush or shadow detail. Skin tones look nice and natural and there are no problems to note with any overzealous noise reduction, problematic compression or obvious edge enhancement. Detail and texture are excellent from start to finish. This is a gorgeous image and a massive improvement over the old non-anamorphic domestic DVD release from MGM.Sound:
The English language LPCM Mono track on the disc available is clean, nicely balanced and very natural sounding. There are no problems with any hiss or distortion and there's good depth throughout. The score used in the film sounds very good here, always tight and impressively powerful in spots. Solid range is evident here. There are no alternate language options provided but English closed captioning is provided.Extras:
Extras for this release are a mix of new and old, starting with an audio commentary from the late Ken Russell that originally appeared on the aforementioned DVD release from some years back. Russell spends a lot of time discussing the film's literary origins and noting which real life historical figures may or may not have had an influence on how certain scenes here play out. He also shares some interesting stories and anecdotes about working with the cast and crew on the film, and of course Oliver Reed's penchant for behaving like Oliver Reed comes into play. He also discusses some of the locations used in the film, the score and quite a bit more. Russell's commentary tracks were always interesting and this one is no exception. Also carried over from the DVD release is a commentary track with writer and producer Larry Kramer. This track is also quite interesting as it covers things from a few different angles. Not only does Kramer talk about adapting D.H. Lawrence's source material and some of the complications involved in that but he also talks about working with Russell on the project, the screenwriting process, getting the movie actually finished, what he did from a producer's standpoint and more. Between the two tracks we get a lot of pertinent information about the history and making this film, and as such, they're quite valuable.
A British Picture: Portrait Of An Enfant Terrible is a piece that Russell himself made as a dramatized self-portrait for British television in 1989. It's a forty-two-minute piece that starts off with an odd montage of images on a picture frame that then expands to take up the entire frame as we see a series of strange clips from various sources that then leads to Russell's narration at which point he talks about his love of film from a young age, early pictures that impressed him such as Metropolis and then his progression from film fan to filmmaker. It's all very strange and almost surreal in spots, done very much with Russell's trademark sense of odd humor front and center in the piece and it's quite interesting too. The ending in particular is quite funny. Russell himself shows up in a video piece that documents a 2007 BAFTA Los Angeles Heritage Archive interview that clocks in at just under fourteen-minutes. Here he's interviewed about his love of cinema, how he started to take movies more seriously as he got older, his thoughts on music, details of some of the scripts that he wrote (some produced, some not) and quite a bit more. Russell is animated and cheeky here, he's always a good interview subject.
Also on hand is an interview with Glenda Jackson, cigarette in hand, that runs twenty-minutes and that was recorded in 1976. She talks about her first acting experiences, how she did some early roles ‘usually playing maids' and they how she took the step to do it professionally. She then speaks about a few of the roles that she's played over the years, her thoughts on some of the parts that she's played over the years, getting cast in Women In Love and how much she liked working with Ken Russell. This is sourced from an old tape and it's a bit rough, but still quite a nice addition to the disc.
Billy Williams shows up in an interview shot specifically for this disc in 2017 that clocks in at twenty-five-minutes in length. He speaks about the source material and original novel that this film was based on, what it was like shooting this film and some of the filters that were used to achieve a specific look, the use of color and lighting in the film, working with Russell, shooting the naked wrestling scene and the dangers inherent in filming it the way that they did, how the film was explicit for its time but is rather tame by modern standards, and the ‘beauty of 35mm film.' Interesting stuff, if you've got an interest in the more technical side of lighting and shoot a feature.
Editor Michael Bradsell was also interviewed exclusively for this Criterion Collection Blu-ray release in a piece that runs seventeen-minutes. He talks about meeting Russell and working with him for the first time and how he was a bit nervous, how their relationship developed over time, cutting the different set pieces in Women In Love, viewing the rushes and having to narrow down what would be kept and what would be excised, the trickiness of editing the scene with all the mirrors in it, and the expression that is evident in the film. Lots of good information here about the origins of the picture, and constructing it all in a way that fit what he and Russell were after.
The ATV Today segment is an interview with actors Alan Bates and Jennie Linden from a 1968 television broadcast that runs a hair over ten-minutes. This black and white segment includes some footage shot on the set of the feature showing Russell at work, and that gives us an idea of what it would have been like on the set. It also lets the two actors give us some background information on how they got into the business and their thoughts on the project at hand. They also talk to Larry Kramer about his role as writer and producer on the film.
The disc also includes a twenty-five-minute short film entitled Second Best that was directed by Stephen Dartnell in 1972. This film, previously unreleased, also stars Alan Bates and is again based on a story by D.H. Lawrence. Here Bates and Victoria Ward play a couple whose lives become… complicated when she returns to the village where she grew up only for him to court her while the engage in hunting moles. It's an odd piece to say that least, but not without its quirky charm and both Bates and Ward are quite good in it.
Outside of that, the disc contains a theatrical trailer for the feature, menus and chapter selection. Accompanying the disc is an insert booklet containing credits for the feature and the Blu-ray presentation as well as liner notes from scholar Linda Ruth Williams.Final Thoughts:
Ken Russell's critically lauded filmed adaptation of D.H. Lawrence's Women In Love has, courtesy of the Criterion Collection, received the special edition release that it's so long deserved. The presentation is outstanding and the extras comprehensive and fascinating. Fans of the late director's work should consider this essential.