Two D.H. Lawrence creations bookended the 1960s: the obscenity trial of Lady Chatterley’s Lover in 1963 (the year in which Philip Larkin alleged that sexual intercourse began) and the international hit that Ken Russell made of Women in Love.
Gerald Crich (Oliver Reed) – the brutish, aristocratic son of a coal industrialist – and Rupert Birkin (Alan Bates) – a school inspector possessed of extravagantly quixotic theories about nature, life and love, all seeming to channel from a nascent awareness of his bisexuality – are best friends who fall in love with a pair of sisters, Gudrun (Glenda Jackson), a sculptress and Ursula Brangwen (Jennie Linden), a schoolteacher, in the coal-mining town of Beldover in postwar England.
Rupert marries Ursula, Gerald begins a love affair with Gudrun, and the foursome embarks upon a Swiss honeymoon.
But the relationships take markedly different directions, as director Russell explores the nature of commitment and love.
The success of the film was at least partially thanks to one of the most notorious scenes in all British cinema, in which Alan Bates and Oliver Reed engage in full-frontally naked wrestling on a rug in front of an open fire to underscore their characters’ latent homoeroticism.
But there was also a powerful sensuality emanating from Glenda Jackson’s Oscar-winning performance as the wayward Gudrun.
Women in Love is sumptuously filmed, magnificently costumed (by Shirley Russell), and so exceptionally well-acted you can watch it again and again without ever unearthing all the delightful nuances in the actors’ performances.