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Film Review

By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat

 

Priest of Love
Directed by Christopher Miles
Kineo Video 10/81 DVD/VHS Feature Film
R

It is my richness, my glory, my deepest conviction that I was part of his work as if I was of his life and a vital part.
            — Frieda Lawrence
The most vital necessity in this life is that you shall you're your wife completely and implicitly and in entire nakedness of body and spirit.
            — D. H. Lawrence

D. H. Lawrence was born on September 11, 1885 in Eastwood near Nottingham, England. His father was a miner and his mother, a schoolteacher. Although he taught for several years and published a novel, his remarkable career didn't really take off until after he fell in love with Frieda von Richtofen Weekley (1879 - 1956). He convinced her to leave her husband and three children for a life of wonder and adventure with him. There were married in 1914. Until Lawrence's death from tuberculosis on March 2, 1930, their turbulent relationship weathered all storms and served as the seedbed for some of the most significant stories ever written about the subtle resonances of love.

In 1970, director Christopher Miles filmed D. H. Lawrence's The Virgin and The Gypsy. Now after many years of preparation, he has brought to the screen a strikingly acted, beautifully photographed portrait of this prolific artist and his extraordinary wife. The screenplay by Alan Parter is based on Harry T. Moore's comprehensive biography The Priest of Love plus the letters and writings of D. H. Lawrence. Many of the actual locations lived in and visited by the couple during their last six years together are used in the film.

Lorenzo is an experience, not a classic.
            — John Middleton Murry

Ian McKellen (an English actor who recently won a Tony for his performance as Antonini Salieri in Amadeus) vividly conveys both the high seriousness and lyrical intensity of D.H. Lawrence. The actor compels us to feel in our bones just what Lawrence meant when he said that wonder "is the natural religious sense," and we are caught up in Lawrence's battle against righteous censors who dogged him all his days. The creative fire which burned in this artist produced ten novels, sixty odd pieces of prose fiction, ten volumes of poetry, eight plays, two volumes on the psychology of the unconscious, four books of travel impressions, and a classic work of literary criticism on American fiction.

From 1924 until his death, the Lawrences traveled the world, abandoning England when British censor Herbert Muskett (John Gielgud) was carrying on a campaign to ban Lorenzo's books. They stayed for a while in Taos, New Mexico where an American patron of the arts, Mabel Dodge Luhan (Ava Gardner), entertained them and Lawrence's admirer, Dorothy Brett (Penelope Keith). Women rallied around the man in awe — hoping to tap into his energy or help him. But Lawrence was obsessed with Frieda — she gave him the exuberant sexuality which fascinated him, the resistance he needed for his creative process, and the loyalty which rooted him despite their vagabond lifestyle.

I shall always be a priest of love and a glad one. Once you've known what love can do, there's no disappointment and no despair.
            — D. H. Lawrence

Janet Suzman (Nicholas and Alexandra) puts in a stellar performance as Frieda. She reveals the tender, violent, humorous, proud, and loyal aspects of their relationship. D.H. Lawrence forced her to turn away from her own children in order to nurture the artistic offspring of his mind; he depended on her to help him exorcise the demons of his Puritanical past; he expected her to understand and accept his efforts to give to men the element of femininity which was so strong in him; and he relied on her to serve as his muse — especially in the writing of his classic Lady Chatterley's Lover.

This film does not slight Lawrence's personal faults, which included uncontrollable rages, an inability to keep friends, paranoia, and egotism which sometimes even closed out Frieda. The Priest of Love is at once an unusual love story and a riveting portrait of an artist who fifty years after his death still remains an enigma and a challenge.


Special features on the DVD include "The Way We Got It Together," a documentary on the making of the film; interviews with Ian McKellen and Christopher Miles; deleted scenes with director's commentary; out-takes; and a stills gallery.

 

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Reviews and database copyright 1970 2012
by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
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