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,
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.
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.
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.
The hommage to Busby Berkeley 42nd Street below.