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 79.

    I was lucky enough to be the Director of Photography on two of Ken's films, Gothic & Prisoner of Honour.
    He was an enervating and inspirational director who didn't suffer fools gladly. Gothic was the the 2nd movie of my career and after it was finished he was unstintingly generous in recommending me to other directors. I saw the Devils again last year. It was film decades ahead of its time.

  • 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 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 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

    Comment number 14.

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


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