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

    Comment number 46.

    about 10 years ago my daughter Emma age 13 spent a weekend in london courtesy of Apple ,she was partnered with ken to make a video ,they made a pop music video with emma dancing in the street near the Albert hall and ken directing it ,she had a fabulous time .
    Ken has always stayed in our thoughts as he was so lovely to her we still have the video .RIP Ken Russell x

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    A very sad day for the British film industry. Our thoughts go out to his family and friends. Perhaps now Ken's masterpiece 'The Devils' can now be re-mastered and released, un-cut, as he originally intended to honour him. I would urge readers to sign the online petition.

  • Comment number 44.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    Ken Russell may have died in relative obscurity, but I believe he will be rediscovered in time. God Speed to a wildly innovative and imaginative filmmaker.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    Go well,Ken.
    How about a movie on Heaven?
    Participated in some visual feasts through your movies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    Happy days Factchecker515 !!! As another extra at the Kings Theatre and the Who concert, Ken Russell has always brought back great memories. RIP, Ken.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    i loved "lair of the white worm", from years ago, rest in peace ken.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    I interviewed Ken at his home back in March for the publication Cinema Retro. I believe it was one of the last in-depth interviews he ever gave. It was a fascinating experience - it was almost as though he was trying to shock me in person like he’d did with his own storytelling. He was very eccentric but also a very entertaining interviewee.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    A Dieu Ken, l'enfant terrible of the British film establishment. Saw a lot of your work some of it good, some bad, some awful, some blindingly brilliant, it's impossible to be indifferent to your work.. You made the film industry less pompous, introverted and self-obsessed. Sail on Ken you will be missed by those that "got" your work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    His unique approach and individual style is sadly missed; a true British "great".

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    He clearly felt shock and outrage were an end in themselves, rather than an engaging narrative. Consequently the majority of his films were outrageously boring.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Thank you for some of the most highly memorable moments in cinema history. The world needs rebels and you took it to the limit and to the end. R.I.P.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    We always needed more Ken Russell and less Ken Loach.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    His ability to visualize the music has been unjustly underestimated. He was in fact an Eisenstein of our time. Thank you for all your precious contributions to the film art.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    His 'autobigraphy' of Mahler (played by Robert Powell) is very underrated. And who can forget Crimes of Passion. Anthony Perkins - as a whacked out man of God - acting very OTT and Kathleeen Turner playing against type as a prostitute pursued by him.

    Tommy is one of my favourite musicals of all time - RIP Ken Russell.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Ken Russell will be remembered, in this house at least, for the magnificent film using a montage of documentary clips to back Holst's The Planets suite.

    A film to sit and drink in, time and again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    He was one of the few directors whose work impressed me from the first moment that I encountered it. As I was growing up and learning the culture of an adult world, encountering the work of a director who seemed to be a kindred spirit was very encouraging. Not that I would wish his death to be the trigger, I nevertheless hope that some, if not all, of his BBC work will now be released on DVD.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    "What this country needs is rock music and I think Townshend, Daltrey, Entwistle, Moon, The Who can rise this country out of it's decadent state more than Wilson, Heath and all those crappy people can ever hope to achieve" Classic Ken - R.I.P

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Ah, the great Ken, how very sad, I owe my career to him. When I was in my mid teens Ken made me his personal assistant , He would carefully explain how he was constructing sequences, why you framed a shot that way and so on. I sat at his knee at Huw Wheldon's White Lion production meetings at Ealing. Such memories of Monitor, The Diary if a Nobody, Song of Summer. A great man & we'll miss him

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    RIP Ken. I enjoyed The Devils and Altered States. While The Devils was controversial, it was based upon a book.


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