Monday, August 20, 2007
If you came fresh to Ken Russell's adaptation of The Rainbow then you would probably think it a great disappointment. But if you have seen some of Russell's more recent films then it probably comes as something of a relief.
There was none of the noisy chaos of those films, though we may have had a narrow escape. If one believes David Hemmings's memoirs (always a big if, it is true) then he was called in at the last minute when Elton John dropped out.
The Rainbow is a novel covering the lives of three generations, but the film is concerned only with the chapters covering the third. It follows the young adulthood of Ursula, who grows up to be one of the heroines of Women in Love.
The problem with this is that it robs the story of much of its appeal. Though it lacks a conventional plot, the novel does show the way that the experiences of earlier generations impact upon their children and grandchildren. Without this richness, the film is rendered purely episodic.
It deals with Ursula's yearnings for a life of her own, her sexual adventures and her teaching career. There is a great deal of nudity (which I felt bound to illustrate for you), much of it filmed in beautiful landscapes. It would be easy to blame Russell for this, but D. H. Lawrence cannot escape his share of the blame.
Perhaps because I studied The Rainbow for A level, Lawrence now seems to me a novelist who appeals to adolescents - even if I now understand him better in some ways. All that sex and talk of finding a wider, fuller life is mighty impressive when you are 17. Certainly his critical reputation is not half as high as it used to be. Do people read him much today?
There is a cameo from Dudley Sutton as a kinky artist and the film is a reminder of what a wonderful actress Glenda Jackson was. A great career was sacrificed and she became no more than a mundane and dissatisfied minister in Blair's government.
One other scene should be mentioned. As a young teacher Ursula has trouble keeping her trouble in order and ends up giving a savage beating to one of the boys. The film makes him behave far worse than in the book, but it is still a nasty scene. There was always was something fascistic about Lawrence and this scene brings it out.