Sunday, May 6, 2018

Women in Love

In the 1953 Marlon Brando movie The Wild One, Pegy Maley asks Brando, "What are you rebelling against?", to which Brando answers, "Whadda you got?" I couldn't help but think of that exchange when was watching Women in Love.

Glenda Jackson plays Gudrun Brangwen, elder sister to Ursula (Jennie Linden), two single sisters still living with their parents in a middle-class home in the industrial part of 1920s England. The being the years just after World War I, the times are changing a bit, and Gudrun (and to a lesser extent Ursula) isn't so certain she wants to conform so tightly to convention. So the two ditch a family engagement to watch the wedding ceremony of Laura, daughter of a local colliery owner, to military officer Tibby. At the wedding Gudrun catches the eye of the bride's brother Gerald (Oliver Reed), while Ursula catches the eye of Gerald's best friend Rupert (Alan Bates).

Rupert is a school inspector, so when he inspects the school where the two sisters teach, it's a chance to rekindle the relationship with Ursula, as well as invite her and Gudrun into the "smart set" run by Rupert's current girlfriend Hermione (Eleanor Bron). The result is that Rupert winds up breaking things off with with Hermione and pairing up with Ursula, while Gerald and Gudrun also become an item.

While the two sisters have some unconventional ideas about love, it turns out that the two boyfriends might have even more unconventional ideas, if that were possible. Gerald isn't certain he wants a marriage, but certainly wants a lover, and tends to think that all women are either wives or mistresses. Rupert is more radical. While he's OK with a marriage, he also wants a relationship with a man that's as emotionally close as the relationship between a husband wife. Perhaps he wants it to be physically close, too.

And so, the two couples go on like this, through love and various tragedies. Rupert and Ursula get married; Gerald and Gudrun remain just lovers although they have some very intense sex along the way. Eventually, though, on a Christmas trip to Switzerland, a third man comes into the picture, threatening to tear everything apart.

I have to admit that I found Women in Love a bit tedious, largely because I found the philosophical ideas spoted by the characters to be no better than the sort of stuff you'd hear from your high school classmates and think it was deep, only to realize years later that everybody was so terribly immature. In doing a bit of unrelated reading, I came across the term "bright young things" that was used derisively to describe a certain stratum of upper-class interwar British society, and calling the characters here "bright young things" certainly fits.

The acting is probably good, although sometimes it's hard to tell considering the material they have to deal with. Glenda Jackson won the Best Actress Oscar and, looking at the nominees, it looks like a fairly weak class she was up against. None of the other actors were nominated. This isn't to say that Jackson does a bad job; it's more to say that I didn't notice anything spectacular and that much of the reason for it was the hindrance of the script.

Perhaps the best summation I can think of comes when the two sisters go off by themselves at a big party. Ursula is singing when a bunch of cattle approach. Gudrun confronts the cattle -- by doing interpretive dance. Eventually the cattle get perplexed enough to wonder what the hell this is all about and wander off, desperate to get out of the movie. I understood the feeling.

Women in Love is available on a pricey Criterion disc, so even though I didn't particularly care for it, some of you might.

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