Ken Russell, Women In Love director, dies at 84

 
Ken Russell Ken Russell was Oscar-nominated for his 1969 film Women In Love

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Film director Ken Russell, who was Oscar-nominated for his 1969 film Women In Love, has died at the age of 84.

His son, Alex Verney-Elliott, said he died on Sunday following a series of strokes.

During his career, he became known for his controversial films including Women In Love, which featured Oliver Reed and Alan Bates wrestling nude.

He also directed the infamous religious drama The Devils and The Who's rock opera, Tommy, in 1975.

"My father died peacefully, he died with a smile on his face," Mr Verney-Elliott said.

Russell's widow, Elize, said she was "devastated" by her husband's death, which had been "completely unexpected".

She said the director had recently agreed to direct a musical feature film of Alice In Wonderland and had been working on the script and casting.

"He also had just completed an article for The Times on a review of the re-release of his film The Devils, so he was keeping himself very busy," she added.

Expert view

Geoff Andrew, Head of Film Programme at BFI Southbank

"Ken Russell was a brave and fearless film-maker who didn't mind, and even enjoyed, raising the hackles of people.

He was fiercely devoted to making films about the arts, and made some wonderful work for television.

At a time when British television was dominated by kitchen sink realism along came Ken who was into symbolism and metaphor.

A classic film scene is the 1812 Overture sequence in The Music Lovers (1970). Richard Chamberlain, as Tchaikovsky, is festooned with ribbons while people's heads are blown off by cannonballs. It's the sort of thing that only Ken Russell would have made.

He sometimes had an eccentric take, he was never less than entertaining.

In later years, he found it difficult to get financing, but he did keep turning out films of note. In the 1960s and first half of the 70s he was very important. He brightened up British cinema no end."

Glenda Jackson, who gave an Oscar-winning performance in Women In Love and starred in a number of Russell's other films including Music Lovers, told the BBC it was "just wonderful to work with him and to work with him as often as I did".

"He created the kind of climate in which actors could do their job and I loved him dearly."

Jackson added that she believed the director had been overlooked by the British film industry, saying it was "a great shame".

"It was almost as if he never existed - I find it utterly scandalous for someone who was so innovative and a film director of international stature," she said.

'Creative force'

Joely Richardson, who starred opposite Sean Bean in Russell's 1993 BBC TV series Lady Chatterley, said: "I will forever feel privileged and honoured to have worked with the great Ken Russell.

"More than that, I was extremely fond of the man himself."

Lord Melvyn Bragg, who first worked as Russell's assistant in 1963 on BBC programme Monitor, said he was "an exceptional man".

"He was a glorious director at his best, his best films will be remembered. He was a tremendous ornament to the rather supine British film industry and he was the glory of the television arts industry," he said.

Film-maker Michael Winner hailed Russell's "duplicity of mind", adding he had made an "enormous contribution" to British cinema.

"He pushed the barriers completely and got away with it sometimes and didn't others, but he made some startling movies," said.

Martin Scorsese on 'fearless' film director Ken Russell

"He had an eye for the composition of each image on the screen - a great eye for imagery and then, of course, he had a great idea for the grotesque."

Friend and cultural commentator Norman Lebrecht said: "Among many achievements that spring to mind, he made British cinema less insular and self-referential.

"He was also a leading creative force in the history of British television. He will be widely mourned."

Russell later returned to more small budget, but no less flamboyant fare, including Crimes of Passion, Gothic, Salome's Last Dance and the cult horror-comedy The Lair of the White Worm, starring Hugh Grant.

The director also made an adaptation of DH Lawrence's The Rainbow followed by the gritty film, Whore, and even tried his hand at music videos, making Nikita for Sir Elton John.

Many of Russell's later films were dismissed as too eclectic and by the 1990s he found it almost impossible to get funding for his work.

He returned to the public eye in 2007, when he appeared on Celebrity Big Brother.

He lasted just four days before quitting the show after a disagreement with fellow contestant, the late Jade Goody.

 

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  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 26.

    I remember all the people who got upset by the Devils that one brilliant film is enough to put him in the top rank of filmmakers. where are the directors today that are not scared to upset the The Sun and the Daily Mail

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 25.

    Farewell mad, wonderful Ken Russell. Does anyone also remember Altered States? I rather liked it.
    He's probably up there in a goat mask, orgying with the nuns.
    Good man Ken. we'll miss you.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 24.

    The Rainbow, and Women in Love I consider to be D. H. Lawrence's masterpieces. Multiple film versions have been made of a few of his works. He is a notoriously difficult author to capture faithfully on film, yet got his finest celluloid expression through Russell. Just a few days ago I watched Women in Love for the 13th time, and still found new meanings. Russel was an unalloyed genius.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 23.

    He enabled my artie wife to subject me to some amazing films such as the Devils, which were real eye openers. This and Kubricks 'Clockwork Orange' were amazing.

    A sad loss.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 22.

    A shame that this report makes no mention of the fact that Ken Russell started his career at the BBC, or of the wonderful drama documentaries he made for it later.

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 21.

    I was in the Pinball Wizard scene in Tommy at the Kings Theatre, Southsea in 74. We got paid with tickets to a free Who concert. Mind you, Ken also destroyed the South Parade Pier by accident (you can see it on fire at the end). Good times! We'll miss you, Ken...

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 20.

    A wonderful talented (if eccentric) director. His best work was probably "The Planets" based on the Holst musical suite, done for London Weekend Television. A retrospective on BBC3/4 would be a fitting tribute please!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 19.

    His movies had so much energy and violence in them--the energy of youth, the violence of life--that it almost leaped out of the screen to knock you down. My favorite of his is Savage Messiah, which is an incredible movie (and not just because Dame Helen Mirren appears entirely nude in it!), the best artist biopic I've seen. It captures the fury and madness of artistic creation like no other.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 18.

    films that were not always easy to watch, but would always keep your interest

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 17.

    I only watched Mahler on Saturday night. Ken Russell did so much for the British Film Industry, such a shame one our great directors has gone, but his legacy will live on.
    Why is Ken Russell at the BBC only available as a US Import?

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 16.

    Very sad news and a great loss to film making. A uniquely British talent. Shouldn't be remembered solely for the wild abandon with which he could attack or display the outré, or his indulgence in gloriously over the top imagery; all his films display a spectacular cinematic sense, an artist's eye, and a composer's sense of emotion, tone, and tempo.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 15.

    It is time for a thorough retrospective of his work and for Warner Bros to rescind their refusal to issue his Directors Cut of The Devils, which we all want to see. Hopefully BBC will also showcase his films on BBC3 or 4 instead of the endless inane American cartoons.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 14.

    Thank you Ken for some outstanding films. Some great, some good, some bad, but none boring.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 13.

    @4. numerology

    numerology for Ken Russell:

    Site blocked by my plugin as being untrustworthy.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 12.

    I didn't know much about him, but I saw him on Celebrity Big Brother a few years ago and he was a real eccentric. He appears to have a very good reputation in the film industry and I've seen snippets of Women In Love (you can probably guess which ones). It's sad when anyone dies, but an 84 year old man with a long lasting career and legacy to many is to be celebrated.

    Rest in Peace.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 11.

    He is highly underrated. 'Tommy' is a masterpiece and 'The Boyfriend', so trashed at the time, is one of the sweetest musicals ever, well worth rediscovering.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 10.

    Gosh, so many great people have passed away this year. What a truly Annus horribilis.

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 9.

    What does "duplicity of mind" mean? Ken Russell was a great director. Surely he merited comments from more illustrious colleagues.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 8.

    Oh my god. How sad. Ken's eccentricity will be missed.

  • rate this
    +16

    Comment number 7.

    The sad passing of a maverick cinematographic genius. Nor should we forget his films on the composers for the BBC.

 

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