The Film (5/5)
One of Ken Russell's most frequent, and I hate to say themes is his use of adaptation or biographies as source material. I loathe to say adaptation in the traditional sense, as he seems to use any and all source material as a springboard as a visual stimulus into into the filmed reality he wishes to create. Therefore, if he wants to make a film about the night Frankenstein was conceived such as "Gothic" the actual conception of Frankenstein takes a backseat to the bizarre dreamlike and nightmare visuals he chose to conceive for the film, rather then a story about writers writing.
For his 1969 film Women in Love, he chose to adapt the D.H. Lawrence book of the same name. And though the adaptation of the story if closer to the mark then his later work, he takes inspiration from other works of Lawrence amongst other things, injects it with his powerful visuals, and anchors it with dynamic, yet raw performances by an incredible cast.
The film follows the Brangwen sisters Ursula and Gudrun (Oscar Winner, Glenda Jackson) who aspire mostly to have a free existence. That is, however, until they meet best friends Rupert (Alan Bates) and Gerald (Oliver Reed), the pair fall in love with the duo, and begin a friendship that will stretch the boundaries of the notion of relationships. This is specifically tested when the foursome go on a trip together to Switzerland.
If I had to put together a top 5 of Ken Russell's films (and this would be quite difficult), I am fairly certain Women in Love would make it with ease. If not for the assured stylized visuals of the young assured Russell, it would certainly do so for the performances of the cast including the always over-the-top, but reelable Reed, and of course, the excellent Glenda Jackson. The sexual elements which made the film controversial for both Lawrence and later Russell, might not seem as such now as they did at the time, but moments like the famous wrestling scene still should grasp viewers for not just the raw sexuality involved, but the intensity of the performances held within.
Ken Russell's Women in Love is presented by Criterion in a lush 1:75:1 1080p AVC encoded transfer that translates Russell's visuals quite well into the HD era (I am only beginning to imagine what UHD would do for some of these, dare I dream?). The colors are well replicated throughout the presentation, including the occasional warm tone, detail is excellent, especially fine detail. Grain is natural, but kept at a minimum.
Audio is handled by an LPCM mono track in English that, of course, does the job quite well with score, dialogue, and other ambient effects coming through clear and crisp with no issues to report.
Most of the extras here are archival, but that is understandable as the film is nearly 50 years old, but we do have a lot of them, and that is quite pleasing to Russell fans such as myself. There are 2 Russell-led commentaries from 2003, TV interviews with Russell from 2007, a documentary on the director from 1989, an interview with Glenda Jackson from 1976, interviews with cast members from the set of the film. There are new interviews with cinematographer Billy Williams and editor Michael Bradsell, a short film based on another Lawrence story. and a print essay on the film.
Women in Love is one of Russell's early best films. The Blu-ray from Criterion looks and sounds quite excellent, and is loaded with substantial extras. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.