This romantic melodrama adapted from DH Lawrence’s best seller is set in the dark and gloomy English Midlands in the early 20th Century and concerns a sensitive youth, the youngest son of a tippling miner and his educated wife, whose life is complicated by his mother’s possessiveness, stern economic necessity, and two young women with vastly different views on physical love.
Walter Morel (Trevor Howard), a tough, hard-drinking Nottinghamshire miner, is married to Gertrude (Wendy Hiller), a comparatively well-educated woman.
Morel wants to send their three sons – Arthur (Sean Barrett), William (William Lucas) and Paul (American actor Dean Stockwell) – down the pits, but only Arthur follows in his father’s footsteps.
William takes a London job, and Paul – who is Gertrude’s favourite – develops a flair for art.
Paul falls for Miriam (Heather Sears), the pretty daughter of Mrs Leivers (Rosalie Crutchley), a working woman, but though Miriam reciprocates, her mother’s distaste for the physical side of marriage dampens her ardour.
Arthur is killed, and Paul gains employment in a corset factory, where he meets Clara (Mary Ure, pictured below), a beautiful supervisor who has separated from her husband and supports the Suffragette Movement.
Paul and Clara spend a weekend together, but Paul soon realises there is no depth to their love. He returns home and finds Gertrude – who now can not bear to have her husband near her – dying.
Following Gertrude’s death, Paul sees Miriam again but spurns matrimony. Determined that he will belong to nobody, he heads to London, intent on studying art.
Dean Stockwell’s efforts to adopt an English accent cause some stiffness, but he nevertheless gives a clever performance as the dreamer and artist Paul. Trevor Howard also struggles with his Nottinghamshire brogue but registers as the earthy, unimaginative Morel in a role for which he received an Oscar nomination.
The acting is a trifle uneven but director Jack Cardiff’s sure grasp of fundamentals, heightened by a perceptive cameraman (Freddie Francis), brings out the full flavour of the frank, poignant and provocative tale. Although the film was released in CinemaScope, Cardiff chose to film in black and white as he felt that Technicolor was too pretty for such a gritty subject.
Mrs Gertrude Morel
Vilma Ann Leslie