Women in Love follows two depressed sisters who fall for repressed men. Ken Russell’s film is beautiful but chilly. He sprinkles shocking moments between stretches of tedium. The characters in D.H. Lawrence’s novel rejected their conformist society. Larry Kramer’s screenplay keeps the leads isolated. We rarely see the society they’re rebelling against. They haven’t much fight in them anyway. The actors play their mopey characters as defeated from the start, with nowhere to go.
Learn more in my spoiler filled recap.
Act One: Bored Pretty People
Scene One: Friend’s Wedding
JENNIE LINDON (The Boring Sister): Do you think we should get married?
GLENDA JACKSON (The Oscar Winning Sister): Maybe. But men are awful.
ALAN BATES (A Philosopher): Greetings milady. Did you know that flowers are like vaginas?
GLENDA: Proving my point.
Scene Two: House Party
ALAN: Did you know that figs are like vaginas?
MEAN DANCER (His Mistress): Boring. It’s time for my performance.
(Mean Dancer performs a dull ballet. Alan dances with Jennie to upstage her.)
ALAN: Women aren’t spontaneous.
MEAN DANCER: I’ll spontaneously bash your skull in.
(She hits him with a paper weight. He flees the house and rolls naked in a field.)
ALAN: It’s hard being me. I’m sooo deep!
Act Two: Poor Life Choices
Scene Three: Countryside
OLIVER REED (A wealthy mine owner): Industrialism has left me emotionally stunted.
(Oliver beats his horse.)
GLENDA: I like that you’re sadistic.
(Glenda dances in a cattle field.)
OLIVER: I like that you’re deranged.
(Oliver’s sister and her husband drown. His father dies of illness. His mother cackles maniacally.)
MOTHER: I hated your father! Marriage drives people mad! BWA HA HA!
Scene Four: Fireside Chat
ALAN: Jennie hates me. And loves me.
OLIVER: I don’t believe in love.
ALAN: That’s because women aren’t enough. You should love me.
OLIVER: I’m not gay.
ALAN: Let’s wrestle naked.
(They wrestle naked.)
OLIVER: Did we really get away with that?
ALAN: It’s a “prestige” film. You should see what Merchant Ivory gets away with in a few years.
Act Three: Love Kills
Scene Five: Vacation in the Alps
JENNIE: I married Alan Bates!
GLENDA: That’s unfortunate. I’ve been making sculptures.
RUDE BISEXUAL ARTIST: You’re too privileged to be a real artist. Poser.
GLENDA: I like how you’re rude.
OLIVER: Hey. You’re here with me!
GLENDA: You liked me because I was wild. Now you want to domesticate me. We’re through.
(Oliver starts to strangle Glenda. Then lets her go. He hikes into the mountains and freezes to death.)
Scene Six: Ski Lodge Room
ALAN: This never would have happened if Oliver had loved me back.
JENNIE: Don’t be silly. Men can’t love men like they love women.
ALAN: Gurl please.
Men in Love
The sisters found themselves confronted by a void, a terrifying chasm, as if they had looked over the edge.D.H. Lawrence, Women in Love
D.H. Lawrence wrote two novels about the Brangwen sisters. 1915’s The Rainbow followed Jennie Lind’s character as she explored her sexuality with women and men. She was inspired by Lawrence’s wife Freida. 1920’s Women in Love contrasts her ideals with Alan Bates’ cynic, a chatty D.H. Lawrence stand in. Critics couldn’t agree whether the books were feminist, misogynist or pornographic. Kramer’s screenplay is most interested in the inner lives of the men. They get to confide in each other regularly while the sisters are kept apart.
The novel’s bisexual content is highlighted but is not the chief cause of their problems. There’s no evidence that Alan Bates and Oliver Reed would be happier together than they are with the sisters. Their narcissism suggests a love affair would always be a competition.
- Most of this cast would appear in other LGB themed films. Glenda Jackson in Sunday Bloody Sunday and The Music Lovers. Alan Bates in Butley and We Think the World of You. Oliver Reed in The League of Gentlemen. Vladek Sheybal, the bisexual artist, would go on to play the Devil in the camp classic The Apple.
- Ken Russell adapted Lawrence’s companion novel, The Rainbow, to film in 1989. Glenda Jackson returned in a supporting role. Reviews were mixed to positive.
- The novels were adapted into a BBC mini-series in 2011. It starred Rory Kinnear and Rosamund Pike and can be streamed on Amazon Prime.