Criterion Blu-Ray Review: Ken Russell’s ‘Women in Love’

British filmmaker Ken Russell shot to fame with 1969’s Women in Love, an adaptation of the 1920 D.H. Lawrence novel on the love and desire between four friends. Marked by four incredible performances and dynamic directing, the film is an exquisite piece of work.

Sisters Ursula (Jennie Linden) and Gudrun (Glenda Jackson) live in the Midlands mining town of Beldover. There, they are friends with Gerald Crich (Oliver Reed) and Rupert Birkin (Alan Bates). They seem isolated from reality, in their own little upper-class bubble as they explore the meanings of love and friendship.

The film is highlighted by an incredible beauty, both from the actors and the look of the film. It is both authentic to its setting and modern in its execution. Russell and screenwriter/producer Larry Kramer (who later gained fame as a LGBT rights activist and the writer of The Normal Heart) weave Lawrence’s themes into a story that seems episode at the surface, but is really not. Any scene dropped out of the film would compromise the characters’ journeys into their understanding of themselves and their friends.

The Blu-Ray

women in love

The Criterion Collection released Women in Love on Blu-ray in March 2018. Unlike some of Criterion’s recent releases with skimpy extras, the label went all out for this film.

Until Criterion starts releasing 4K UHD discs, they have proven just how astounding 1080p video can look. This release uses a new 4K restoration, and looks remarkable. Billy Williams’ Oscar-nominated cinematography is beautiful, and every shot could be framed in a museum. Criterion’s Blu-ray preserves the film’s look and any damage appears to have been removed.

The list of supplements make this release almost a throwback to the glory days of Criterion, when they were regularly hammering out “film school in a box” releases. Here is everything we get:

  • Commentaries – Criterion includes the individual 2003 commentaries by director Ken Russell and producer/screenwriter Larry Kramer, which appeared on the old MGM DVD. As expected, Russell’s commentary is on the filming, casting and production, and it’s filled with personal stories. Kramer focuses on the themes of the book and getting the film together.
  • A British Picture: Portrait of an Enfant Terrible – This is a documentary/biopic Russell made about himself for British TV in 1989. It runs almost 50 minutes, and features Russell discussing the importance of cinema in his life. This is amazing, a real love letter to movies and is the best thing Criterion included on a set since Filming ‘Othello’. It gets really weird in the 1980s, when Russell ended up shooting a video for a god-awful Cliff Richard song, then shot a music video for a “singing lawyer” in exchange for the lawyer representing him in court! The film ends with footage of The Rainbow (1989), an adaptation of Lawrence’s 1915 novel starring Sammi Davis as Ursula.
  • Ken Russell – Next up is this 14-minute 2007 interview with the director, which is much like an abridged version of A British Picture.
  • Glenda Jackson – Jackson, who won the Best Actress Oscar for this film, is represented by this 20-minute interview from an episode of Film Talk.
  • Billy Williams – This is a new, half-hour interview with the cinematographer, who is nearly 90 years old. Williams, who eventually did win an Oscar for Gandhi (1982), discusses his work with Russell and how Women in Love got its unique look.
  • Michael Bradsell – Criterion also interviewed editor Michael Bradsell.
  • ATV Today – This is a 10-minute B&W segment from a British TV show, filmed on the set in 1968. Aside from the 2003 commentary, this is the only other place where Kramer is heard from.
  • Second Best – In 1972, Alan Bates produced and starred in this TV adaptation of a short D.H. Lawrence story. There is also a short interview with Bates.
  • Trailer
  • “Bohemian Rhapsody” – The leaflet includes an essay by scholar Linda Ruth Williams. It also recreates the beautiful cover by Kent Williams as a poster.

Women in Love is an astounding achievement, and it’s great to finally have an excellent copy of it. The Blu-ray is one of Criterion’s best from 2018 so far. At the center of the film is Glenda Jackson’s incredible Oscar-winning performance, but the film has so much more to offer and invites multiple viewings to grip everything Lawrence, Russell and Kramer wanted to convey through the story.

Thanks to Criterion for providing this disc to review!

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