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Ken Russell themes    


Relationships and Sexuality

Ken Russell The Devils (deleted scene) There are few happily married couples in Russell films, and many of those marriages are sham or are fated to end quickly. Only forbidden but unconsummated relationships seem to end in love.


Women in Love Altered States Lady Chatterley

The marriages are false or forbidden (The Devils, Tommy, The Music Lovers)...

The Devils Tommy The Music Lovers

... with possibly only Prisoners of Honor showing a long term faithful marriage, between Dreyfus and his wife.

Conversely there are lots of unconsummated relationships, from the happy (Clouds of Glory, Savage Messiah) to the sad (The Music Lovers, Crimes of Passion). Russell seems privately uncomfortable with the subject. It was the only part of the interview I had with him where he felt uncomfortable and stumbled his words:

Iain ...chaste sexuality... comes back a number of times, in Savage Messiah between Gaudier and his wife, Wordsworth in Clouds of Glory...
Ken and his sister...
Iain ...you could argue Tchaikovsky and his wife is the same. Would you describe yourself as a liberal?
Ken Er [pause]
Iain Why does this topic interest you?
Ken If I knew I probably wouldnīt do them. [pause] I did have a wonderful relationship with Marion, my sisterīs cousin, itīs in my biography, and she was killed by a landmine just after the war started, about 1940, she trod on a landmine and blew herself up, poor soul. She was an ideal, she was the ideal female. We were only 12 then, and I suppose there was something in that relationship, I suppose there was a bit... I could see it might have a bearing on what you are talking about.

but his films show a wide tolerance and humanity.


Unconsummated love

An early film, French Dressing, includes a boy-girl love story, all very innocent. But even here a small sub-text creeps in has the boy saying to the tom-girl "the carnival is fancy dress- come as a girl". And Fenby in Song of Summer is an innocent both to the attractive maid and the provocative neighbour.

Alita Naughton The Music Lovers Savage Messiah Nikita


Woman as whore

Women are often whores in Russellīs films, with two films tackling the subject head on. But the whores often show compassion, from China Blueīs sadness for her dying client, to Liz (Whore) and her on-camera honesty. These are whores who do not threaten established relationships, whereas Philippe (The Devils) threatens Grandierīs marriage and is seen as corrupt.

Ken Russell The Music Lovers Ken Russell The Devils

Tina Turner in Tommy

Ken Russell Crimes of Passion Ken Russell Mrs Kirsch
Ken Russell Lisztomania       Ken Russell Whore



"The whole normal-abnormal thing is so— well, what is normal?  What is abnormal?"
Ken Russell, 1972.

Russell does not mind breaking taboos. Song of Summer mentioned syphilis, the cause of the paralysis of Delius, in an age when it was unspeakable. And when Oliver Reed and Alan Bates wrestled naked before a fire in Women in Love, Russell brought homo-erotic imagery to mainstream cinema.

In The Devils the homosexuality is portrayed as part of the corruption of society, but in The Rainbow the lesbian seduction is portrayed with beauty and gentleness.

Salome is lusted after by her father and she uses her sexual power over him. But brother and sister William and Dorothy Wordsworth want nothing other than to be together forever.  And in Louse the brother and sister are sexually attracted to each other.

Ken Russell Women in Love Ken Russell The Devils Ken Russell The Rainbow Ken Russell Salomes Last Dance Ken Russell Clouds of Glory


The following films have sexual elements:

Unconsummated love The Music Lovers
Clouds of Glory
Savage Messiah
Crimes of Passion
Innocence French Dressing
The Boyfriend
Song of Summer
Dominating/ older woman Savage Messiah
The Music Lovers
Whore The Devils
Crimes of Passion
The Music Lovers
Taboo- homosexuality Women in Love
The Rainbow
Lair of the White Worm (*)
Whore (*)
Crimes of Passion
The Devils
The Music Lovers
Taboo- incest Gothic
The Music Lovers (latent)
The Fall of the Louse of Usher
Taboo- prostitution and sexual disease Women in Love
Song of Summer
Crimes of Passion
The Music Lovers
Madama Butterfly (opera)

Note: homosexuality (including lesbianism) was generaly not accepted by society when most of the films listed above were set. In Lair of the White Worm and Whore this is not the case so neither is actually a taboo.


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