Close friends Rupert Birkin and Gerald Crich begin romances with siblings Ursula and Gudrun Brangwen. After the couples wed, they take a joint honeymoon to Switzerland, where things begin happily — but they become increasingly complicated as the trip continues. Rupert and Ursula are determined to stay faithful to one another, while the aloof Gerald and the eccentric Gudrun turn to infidelity and sexual exploration.
Ken Russell’s landmark, breakthrough film was adapted from D.H. Lawrence’s 1920 novel by Larry Kramer.
This romantic drama featured the first explicit scene with a homoerotic context that revealed male genitals (full-frontal male nudity) in a commercial mainstream film – extremely daring for its time. The infamous sequence was an extended wrestling match, exhibiting nude male strength, in a locked room before a roaring fireplace between:
Gerald Crich (Oliver Reed), a local mine owner
Rupert Birkin (Alan Bates), a school master
After their match in which Gerald’s strength overcame Rupert, the two sweaty men reclined on the floor side-by-side and talked:
Rupert: “But we ought to swear to love each other, you and I. Intimately. Perfectly. Finally, without any possibility of ever going back on it. Shall we swear to each other one day?”
Gerald: “We’ll wait till I understand it better.”
Their relationship was contrasted by their involvement with two sisters:
Ursula Brangwen (Jennie Linden), a teacher who Rupert eventually married; in one of their scenes, Ursula and Rupert ran naked through a wheatfield and made love together in a swirl of bodies and color
Gudrun Brangwen (Best Actress Oscar-winning Glenda Jackson), a 1920s emancipated, free-thinking, and ill-fated sculptress/artist; Gerald experienced a stormy and temperamental love affair with her
The film was notable because Glenda Jackson became the first performer to win an Academy Award for Best Actress for a role in which she appeared significantly nude (with full and firm breasts).
[Note: Jackson was pregnant during the film shoot and commented about how her breasts (“wonderful bosom”) had never before been so full. Earlier, Julie Christie (as Diana Scott) in Darling (1965, UK) had only briefly displayed her nude backside in a distant shot.]
One of the film’s most memorable sexually-tinged monologues was in the outdoor picnic scene, when Rupert described how to eat a fig – fully describing the fig’s vaginal symbolism:
“The proper way to eat a fig in society…is to split it in four…holding it by the stump…and open it…so that it is a glittering, rosy, moist…honeyed, heavy-petaled, four-petaled flower. Then you throw away the skin…after you have taken off the blossom with your lips. But the vulgar way…is just to put your mouth to the crack…and take out the flesh in one bite. The fig is a very secretive fruit. The Italians vulgarly say it stands for the female part, the fig fruit. The fissure, the yoni…the wonderful moist conductivity towards the center…involved, inturned….One small way of access only, and this close-curtained from the light. Sap that smells strange on your fingers, so that even goats won’t taste it. And when the fig has kept her secret long enough…so it explodes, and you see, through the fissure, the scarlet. And the fig is finished, the year is over. That’s how the fig dies…showing her crimson through the purple slit. Like a wound…the exposure of her secret on the open day. Like a prostitute, the bursten fig makes a show of her secret. That’s how women die, too.”
Director: Ken Russell
Tags: Alan Bates, Alan Webb, Catherine Willmer, Eleanor Bron, Free movies 1969, Glenda Jackson, Jennie Linden, Oliver Reed, Phoebe Nicholls, Sharon Gurney, Vladek Sheybal, Women in Love, Women in Love Online