The film is set in 1920, in the mining town of Beldover in the Midlands. Middle class sisters Ursula (Jennie Linden), a teacher and Gudrun (Glenda Jackson, Sunday Bloody Sunday), a sculptress, are both caught up in the changes sweeping the country. They soon find themselves in very different romantic relationships. Ursula first meets school Inspector Rupert Birkin (Alan Bates) in her classroom, and two become attached. Gudrun begins a turbulent affair with Gerald Crich (Oliver Reed), Rupert’s best friend, and heir to the local mine owner. Later, as both couples vacation in the Alps after Ursula and Rupert’s marriage, and happiness and tragedy intertwine, all of them struggle to figure out whether romantic love alone can fulfill us, or are men and women always going to hurt each other? Do we need something else to fulfill us?
Women in Love is probably best remembered for one scene–the nude wrestling match between Reed and Bates. The audacity of the scene, lengthy shots of two naked men, is still a rare occurrence, almost fifty years later. It’s homoerotic; since we’re aware there’s love for Gerald on Rupert’s part. It may be platonic (or unrequited), but there’s a flicker of desire there. By contrast, there’s little passion in their relationships with the two women. Ursula and Rupert seem to like each other, but their romance is built on societal expectations more than any great love. The relationship between Gudrun and Gerald is toxic. The more he grows obsessed with her, the more she belittles him.
Writer/producer Larry Kramer developed a solid script that addresses life in a changing English society, sexual freedom, and class warfare. Ultimately though, it’s Ken Russell’s authentic visual style that makes the film. The dream touches, slightly weird imagery, and the cinematography of Billy Williams (Gandhi) completes the look.
A stellar cast aids Russell. Glenda Jackson gives her character the free spirit, mixed with intensity necessary to make Oliver Reed’s obsession believable, while Reed broods as well as anyone. Alan Bates does a great job as a tortured soul (a closeted gay man, without saying so). Jenny Linden sparkles as Ursula, in an appropriately quiet manner.
Glenda Jackson won the Academy Award for Best Actress for Best Actress for her role as Gudrun Brangwen.
A new 4K digital restoration, Criterion’s transfer is presented in the 1.75:1 aspect ratio. The image is rather pristine, with only the occasional speck here and there. Colors have been faithfully reproduced, and blacks are inky. There are no issues with crush or shadow detail. Skin tones appear natural, and edge enhancement is a no show. There is an appropriate level of grain that gives the proceedings a filmic appearance. Detail and texture are excellent throughout. This is yet another stellar transfer from Criterion.
The LPCM Mono track is well balanced and clean. There’s no hisses or distortion throughout, and dialogue is clear. The score comes through convincingly, with some nice pop. There’s nice range throughout, and no issues.
There are no subtitles, but closed captioning is available
The following extras are included:
- Audio Commentary with Director Ken Russell: From an old MGM DVD, Russell discusses various aspects of the on-location filming, his directorial style, and various related anecdotes. Well worth a listen, this guy knew how to tell a story.
- Audio Commentary with Producer/Screenwriter Larry Kramer: Also from the old MGM DVD, Kramer discusses the pre-production process, his choices for director before Russell was hired, Hollywood film production in during the swinging ’60s, and aspects of Lawrence’s life that influenced production, and more.
- A British Picture: Portrait of an Enfant Terrible (HD, 48:41) Russell’s 1989 bio-pic of his own life and career he made for British television.
- BAFTA Los Angeles Heritage Archive (HD, 13:45) Segments from a 2007 interview with Ken Russell.
- Archival Interview with Actress Glenda Jackson (HD, 19:45) Done in 1976, Jackson discusses collaborating with Russell on two films back to back, winning the Oscar for Women In Love, turning down the Vanessa Redgrave part in The Devils, and more.
- The ATV Today (HD, 10:17) In this 1968 segment from a British television show, Alan Bates, Jennie Linden, and Larry Kramer are interviewed on location in Derby, England.
- Interview with Director of Photography Billy Williams (HD, 24:42) Recorded exclusively for Criterion in 2017, Williams goes into a lot of technical detail regarding cameras, his experiences with handhelds long before the invention of steadicam , working with Ken Russell, and more.
- Interview with Editor Michael Bradsell (HD, 17:05) Recorded exclusively for Criterion in 2017, Bradsell discusses cutting the different set pieces in the film, watching the rushes, how his relationship with Ken Russell evolved, and more.
- Second Best (HD, 29:35) This 1972 short film based on a D.H. Lawrence short story, was produced by, and stars Alan Bates.
- Trailer (HD, 3:47)
- Booklet: Includes an essay by scholar Linda Ruth Williams.
Movie title: Women in Love (1969)
Director(s): Ken Russell
Actor(s): Alan Bates , Oliver Reed , Glenda Jackson , Jennie Linden , Eleanor Bron , Alan Webb
Genre: Drama, Romance, Erotic, Period