Women in Love
With this film, the audacious Ken Russell vaulted onto the international stage, drawing on the psychosexual radicalism of D. H. Lawrence’s classic novel to shatter taboos in his own time. Set in an English mining community on the crest of modernity, Women in Love traces the shifting currents of desire that link the emancipated Brangwen sisters (Jennie Linden and an Oscar-winning Glenda Jackson) to a freethinking dreamer (Alan Bates) and a hard-willed industrialist (Oliver Reed)—as well as the men’s own erotically charged friendship. Coupling earthy sensuality with kaleidoscopically stylized images, Russell pursues this quartet to the heights of agony and ecstasy, crafting a breathtaking drama of human sexuality at its most liberating, dominating, and destructive extremes.
Ken Russell’s Women in Love receives a new Blu-ray edition, making use of a new 4K restoration, scanned from the 35mm original camera negative. Presented on a dual-layer disc the film receives a 1080p/24 hz high-definition encode and is presented in the aspect ratio 1.77:1.
Criterion’s presentations for their MGM titles as of late have all been pretty great and this title is yet another that can be added to the list. It is, simply put, gorgeous. The level of detail is again extraordinary throughout, most impressive in the various exteriors where just about every blade of grass can be clearly made out, even in longer shots. And as expected film grain has been left intact and looks quite clean here, dancing around naturally, and at no point did I notice any noise or digital artifacts creep in.
Colours look quite good, natural for the most part. Filters have been applied in certain instances obviously (and this is covered to a small degree in the features) but on average colours look very clean, with decent skin tones and some nice looking yellows and reds that pop up. There are some moments where shadow details can get crushed out but on the whole I was still very pleased with black levels. But I was most impressed with the snowy landscapes during the film’s final portion, which deliver bright whites (that actually look white) without any loss of detail in the foreground. The film looks great but it’s the last part of the film where I found the image most stunning.
The restoration has also been exhaustive and outside of some slight pulsing or flicker that creeps in on the right midway through there are no source issues to speak of. This is a statement I’ve thrown around a few times, I know, but this really looks like it could have been filmed yesterday.
The disc provides the film a lossless PCM 1.0 mono track. It’s a surprisingly good one. Some music can maybe creep on the edgy side of things but on the whole it’s clean with some notable range to it. Voices are clear and distinct, and I found fidelity strong. It’s an older mono track but there is some heft to it surprisingly.
This is a pretty packed special edition, giving us a great wealth of features both new and old. First, though, are two separate audio commentary tracks, the first with director Ken Russell, the second with screenwriter and producer Larry Kramer, both recorded in 2003. They’re both really good and I’m glad that they were kept separate and not edited together. Though both of course talk about the film, sharing stories and providing anecdotes and details about certain decisions and sequences (like the reasoning behind the addition of the fig scene) Russell’s is the more technical while Kramer does spend more time discussing D.H. Lawrence, the novel, and adapting it. There are a few surprises and related funny anecdotes (Russell admits to initially being unsure on casting and Oliver Reed and explains how he came up with “levels” of broodiness for the actor) as well as some fascinating details about specific scenes, especially the famous nude wrestling scene, which has some funny back stories as well (he shares a story about Bates and Reed almost chickening out that I’m sure I heard Reed talk about somewhere, maybe on an extra on another disc). One of the biggest surprises (and repeated throughout the features) is that the film actually didn’t run into too many issues with the censors even though everyone involved was prepared to have to make cuts. But alas there were very few issues with the film. In the end both tracks are really strong and on their own they really offer a lot behind the making of the film.
But thankfully Criterion doesn’t stop there and adds on even more material. The most wonderful one would have to be Ken Russell’s auto-biographical film A British Picture: Portrait of an Enfant Terrible, a 49-minute short covering the director’s filmmaking career. Portraying himself as a (give-or-take a couple of years) 8-year-old child in the film (which offers some amusing little gags) Russell rushes through his life, from first discovering films as a child (and projecting them to small audiences thanks to his hand cranked projector) to his eventual television work and then his film career. He also touches on his interesting little foray into music videos, including a bizarre one he made for his attorney who was handling a lawsuit for him. It’s a fast and funny and nicely self-deprecating film, one of the more enjoyable extras I’ve come across on a disc this year.
That film then leads nicely into an excerpt from a 2007 interview with Ken Russell, filmed for a BAFTA L.A. Heritage Archive interview. Russell covers some of the same topics in the previous short film (like how he projected films for family and friends when he was a child) but this feature has Russell get into Women in Love a bit more, though he admittedly covers some material already mentioned in the commentary track, like how they decided shoot the wrestling scene. Despite maybe a little bit of repetition (some things told almost verbatim) it’s a loose and fun 14-minute interview with the filmmaker.
We then get another archival interview, this one with actor Glenda Jackson, filmed in 1976 for Film Talk and sourced from a fairly rough video cassette. This 20-minute discussion is a career spanning one (up to that point obviously), going over her early career and then her Academy Award wins and how that hasn’t really helped her career like some would think. They also talk about some of her other work, like Sunday Bloody Sunday, which then leads to a bit of a talk on box office or (as in the case of Sunday Bloody Sunday) lack thereof.
Criterion has then provided two new interviews, a 25-minute one with cinematographer Billy Williams and a 17-minute one with editor Michael Bradsell. They both offer very in-depth discussions about their respective duties, Williams getting a bit more technical in talking about the film’s look, from use to lenses and filters to pulling off the handheld moments. Bradsell then talks about working with what was shot (which had a lot of long takes) and then finding the appropriate rhythms while keeping the film going at a good pace, and finding the subtext to the film and scenes. The most fascinating moment, though, comes when Bradsell talks about how the possibility of he and Russell being fired led to changes in the structure of early scenes, which he feels greatly benefitted the film. Both are really wonderful and engaging discussions, Criterion even getting all fancy with visual aids to accompany some of the discussions.
A 10-minute clip from a television program called ATV Today shows some on-set footage and presents interviews with producer Kramer and actors Alan bates and Jennie Linden. This is then followed by the short television film Second Best, produced by Bates and based on a short story by D.H. Lawrence. This one ends up being another gem in this release, despite what appears to be a rather simple story revolving around two sisters and their eventual crossing of paths with a young man played by Bates. This film is sourced from a television broadcast and this particular broadcast also opens with an interview with Bates talking about his move to making films.
The disc then closes with a theatrical trailer for the film. Accompanying the edition is a large foldout poster insert featuring the cover art on one side and a new essay on the film, the source, and Russell’s career, written by Linda Ruth Williams.
Outside of the included essay the release does lack much in scholarly material: I guess I would have expected more about Lawrence and then maybe some other material about Russell. Yet the release is still full of some wonderful material, all of it engaging and chalk full of enriching information. A nicely assembled bit of material.
A really superb edition sporting a great collection of supplementary material and a wonderful, very filmic looking presentation. Highly recommended.