…In relentless pursuit of all performances nominated and won!
1970’s Women in Love, based upon the controversial 1920 novel by D.H. Lawrence, may just be one of the oddest films I have seen in some time. The novel was rather sensational when it was published, due to its intensely sensuous themes (it was released in limited quantity in New York City when originally published, due to its content) – and this film adaptation may indeed have been one of those early groundbreaking ventures into more sensual and sexual cinema. Glenda Jackson won the first of her 2 Best Actress Oscars in the film – one notable piece of trivia about this performance in particular being that she was the first Best Actress with a nude scene.
The story of Women in Love revolves around two sisters, Gudrun (Jackson) and Ursula (Jennie Linden) in the late 1910s living in the Midlands of England. The sisters philosophize at the start of the film about falling in love, thus setting the stage for them to do just so as the film progresses. Ursula falls head over heels for reckless playboy Rupert (Alan Bates), and the two hit off a very giddy, romantic affair after Rupert breaks it off with his maddening (prior) girlfriend Hermoine. Gudrun, a Bohemian artist with a penchant for keeping her passions in check (she is rather ‘stiffer’ than her free-spirited younger sister) eventually falls for Industrialist coal-mine owner, Gerald (Oliver Reed). Gerald himself is a rather guarded man, and is spurred to let his emotions and sexual attractions for Gudrun loose after the tragic drowning death of his younger sister and the death of his father. One gets the impression that his sense of family responsibility has tied him down from exploring love and passion in his life – for his mother is borderline neurotic as well. While Ursula and Rupert’s relationships has its ups and downs, it nonetheless flourishes and it is assumed all will be well with them (until the final frame of the film, which I will not spoil for anyone wanting to see it!), while Gudrun and Gerald’s coupling is fiery and passionate in its lust and eventually starts to burn out. You see the erratic romance of the first relationship rise above and almost eclipse the intellectual ardor of the former. Perhaps this is what D.H. Lawrence meant to explore while initially writing his book – a study of women (and men) in love reveals that no two romantic situations can ever be quite the same. The conclusion is a little hazy.
Jackson, while giving a good performance, is rather understated and not played to the full hilt that I would expect of an Academy Award-winning role. After watching this film, one almost has to wonder if it was simply a poor year for actresses (she won against Ali MacGraw in Love Story, Jane Alexander in The Great White Hope, Sarah Miles in Ryan’s Daughter, and Carrie Snodgress in Diary of a Mad Housewife). I suppose I will determine this when I finally see all 5! She does capture the cool irony and artistic enigma of Gudrun remarkably well, and by the end of the film she almost appears calculating and wicked. You can almost understand why Gerald goes mad over her because she is maddening! I suppose for this winning role I would like to have seen more of her. The story seemed to be more Ursula’s than Gudrun’s, and Jennie Linden was radiant. Alan Bates was also particularly affective, and I confess that after watching him in this film and Georgy Girl, I’ve developed a little crush on him (he was really quite a dashing man back in the day – and he plays the gallant rogue well). One scene in Women in Love that I found quite fascinating and slightly titillating was a garden party where Bates’ character compares a cut open fig to a woman’s genitalia… and even goes so far as to describe the proper versus improper way of eating it! WOW. Pretty bold stuff, and Bates carries the scene powerfully well.
One final note about Women in Love in terms of its erotic undertones: it was also one of the first films to boldly show full frontal nudity by men. The plot subtly alludes to a strong relationship between Gerald and Rupert as well – and in one scene in the film, the two men spar in a nude wrestling match. The very physical scene continues for an almost full 5 minutes and both of the men wear absolutely nothing! (Now come on – I don’t think that two straight men would even attempt that!) Quite interesting – and definitely a strange, but certainly memorable (!) twist to an already curiously beguiling film and story.