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Ken Russell classic films


The Boyfriend


Ken Russell The Boyfriend  Ken Russell The Boyfriend

As a change of pace following The Devils Russell did a lighter piece, the Sandy Wilson musical The Boyfriend, in 1971. This was not a commercial success.

Julie Myerson writes "I was 11 when, having become obsessed with Ken Russell's 1971 film of The Boy Friend, I got the book... and directed my sisters and some other kids from the village in our own production. But it wasn't going well and my youngest sister, aged seven, kept forgetting her lines, so I wrote to Sandy Wilson, care of his publishers, for help. Astonishingly, a letter postmarked London arrived within a week or so. His advice – "Why not cut some of your sister's lines and let her say only those she can remember?" (The Guardian, 7 Sept 2014).

The stage musical is a story "involving the romantic entanglement... is simply a teasing trifle. What really counts are Wilson’s melodic gift and verbal dexterity. His delicious score, embracing tap, tango and a two-step, is a positive invitation to dance" (Michael Billington, The Guardian 4 Dec 2019).

Twiggy the model plays Polly with "genuine simplicity... brought to the lead role" (Johnny Fox, undated, in The Londonist, here).

Twiggy in Ken Russell's The Boyfriend

Rather than film the musical conventionally Russell made the film about the making of the musical. When the star of a show (Glenda Jackson in a cameo role) breaks a leg, the newcomer, Twiggy, has to take her place. A major film director (Vladek Sheybal) comes to look at the show as a possible new film.

Vladek Sheybal The Boyfriend

Ken Russell The Boyfriend

The film was badly cut by the studio before release. Russell himself says (The Lion Roars) "but twelve reels are too long to tell such a slim tale, and Sandy Wilson's music, however tuneful, has diminishing returns, as one pastiche Twenties number follows another".  The imagery however is stunning.

Ken Russell The Boyfriend

Ken Russell The Boyfriend 

It was filmed in Portsmouth in the Theatre Royal. Russell wanted to film in a theatre rather than a film studio. In a case of reality imitating art, as preparation Russell and Twiggy went to an amateur production of The Boyfriend in Essex and they caused the same reaction as in the film with the famous director visiting the amateur production.

Ken Russell The Boyfriend

The hommage to Busby Berkeley 42nd Street below.

Ken Russell The Boyfriend

 


People

 Twiggy in Ken Russell's The Boyfriend  Glenda Jackson in Ken Russell's The Boyfriend

Twiggy is a film newcomer putting in a good performance as the stage newcomer.  Glenda Jackson appears uncredited as the overshadowed ageing star. It was one day's work. Christopher Gable is the male star.

Barbara Windsor in The Boyfriend

Barbara Windsor of the "Carry On" films appears. Russell wanted her to play differently from her usual image, but she didn't.  In her autobiography Barbara she says "When [Ken] asked me about making the Carry Ons, I told him we never did more than a couple of takes at the most... I soon discovered that Ken can do as many as 50 takes before he is satisfied".

Peter Maxwell Davis again provides the music.  Photography is by David Watkin.  Ken wrote the screenplay.

Russell regulars are Michael Bradsell (editor) and Ken's wife Shirley Russell (costumes) as well as actors Christopher Gable and Gleda Jackson along with Max Adrian,  Murray Melvin, Georgina Hale, Vladek Sheybal, Bryan Pringle, Adrian Faulds, George Armitage and Imogen Claire.
 

 


Best Image

Ken Russell The Boyfriend 

The dance sequences in Busby Berkley style are spectacular, below on a giant record player.

Ken Russell The Boyfriend 

A reveiw by Robert Ebert states the camera work "is so joyless that it undermines every scene" (8 Feb 1972 here).  Did he watch the same film?  In contrast "The Boy Friend isn't merely one of [Ken Russell's] most exuberant films, which is already saying plenty, but it's his happiest and most joyful" (Michael Barret, 15 Mar 2017 here).

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Best Scene

Glenda Jackson telling the audience to be quiet as they clap the new star Twiggy.
 



Themes

Twiggy initially appears in a sailor's costume.
The innocent relationship of Twiggy and boyfriend.

Ken Russell The Boyfriend

Twiggy sees the photos of heartthrob Valentino - Ken would later make his film on Valentino.

 

 


Films

Other films released in the same year include A Clockwork Orange, The French Connection and two more Russell films- The Devils and The Music Lovers.


A Clockwork Orange The French Connection The Devils  The Music Lovers

 

More films

Click title for film French Dressing * Billion Dollar Brain * Women in Love * The Music Lovers* The Devils * The Boy Friend * Savage Messiah * Mahler * Tommy * Lisztomania * Valentino * Altered States * Crimes of Passion * Gothic * Aria * The Lair of the White Worm * Salome's Last Dance * The Rainbow * Whore * Mindbender * Trapped Ashes/ The Girl with the Golden Breasts

 

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