home    films    tv/opera    news    shop   forum    more    all sites

Ken Russell classic films

Ken Russell The Boyfriend  Ken Russell The Boyfriend

"Personally, Ken Russell changed my life. He was the hottest director in England when he cast me in The Boy Friend. Without him I would have never tried anything other than modeling" (Twiggy from L'Officiel, interview by Joshua Glass, 23 Feb 2021 here)

As a change of pace, following The Devils Russell did a lighter piece, the Sandy Wilson musical The Boyfriend, in 1971. This was not a commercial success.

Julie Myerson writes "I was 11 when, having become obsessed with Ken Russell's 1971 film of The Boy Friend, I got the book... and directed my sisters and some other kids from the village in our own production. But it wasn't going well and my youngest sister, aged seven, kept forgetting her lines, so I wrote to Sandy Wilson, care of his publishers, for help. Astonishingly, a letter postmarked London arrived within a week or so. His advice – "Why not cut some of your sister's lines and let her say only those she can remember?" (The Guardian, 7 Sept 2014).

The stage musical is a story "involving the romantic entanglement... is simply a teasing trifle. What really counts are Wilson’s melodic gift and verbal dexterity. His delicious score, embracing tap, tango and a two-step, is a positive invitation to dance" (Michael Billington, The Guardian 4 Dec 2019).

Twiggy the model plays Polly with "genuine simplicity... brought to the lead role" (Johnny Fox, undated, in The Londonist, here).

Twiggy in Ken Russell's The Boyfriend

Rather than film the musical conventionally Russell made the film about the making of the musical. When the star of a show (Glenda Jackson in a cameo role) breaks a leg, the newcomer, Twiggy, has to take her place. A major film director (Vladek Sheybal) comes to look at the show as a possible new film.

Vladek Sheybal The Boyfriend

Ken Russell The Boyfriend

The film was badly cut by the studio before release. Russell himself says (The Lion Roars, 1994) "but twelve reels are too long to tell such a slim tale, and Sandy Wilson's music, however tuneful, has diminishing returns, as one pastiche Twenties number follows another".  The imagery however is stunning.

Ken Russell The Boyfriend

Ken Russell The Boyfriend 

It was filmed in Portsmouth in the Theatre Royal. Russell wanted to film in a theatre rather than a film studio. In a case of reality imitating art, as preparation Russell and Twiggy went to an amateur production of The Boyfriend in Essex and they caused the same reaction as in the film with the famous director visiting the amateur production.

"The shooting of The Boyfriend took eighteen weeks, twelve in Portsmouth and six in Elstree... Ken shoots mostly in sequence" (Twiggy An Autobiography, 1976, chapters X and XI).

Ken Russell The Boyfriend

The homage to Busby Berkeley 42nd Street below.

Twiggy has stated that Ken screened old clips of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers backstage, which captivated her.  When she promoted the film in LA, studio bosses asked if there was anyone in Hollywood that she'd like to meet. She said "Oh, my God, I'd love to meet Fred Astaire".   She was told it was too difficult as he was already retired and a private man who was no longer seen around Hollywood.  Two hours later at her hotel, the phone rang and she was told, "Twiggy, you've just been invited to tea with Mr Fred Astaire" (from Kat Hopps in the Daily Express, 5 Dec 2020 here),

The Boyfriend book promoted by Ken Russell's film

The text was reissued to coincide with the film "Sandy Wilson wrote it, Ken Russell filmed it, Twiggy stars in it".

Ken Russell The Boyfriend


 Twiggy in Ken Russell's The Boyfriend  Glenda Jackson in Ken Russell's The Boyfriend

Twiggy is a film newcomer putting in a good performance as the stage newcomer.  Twiggy says "Personally, Ken Russell changed my life. He was the hottest director in England when he cast me in The Boy Friend. Without him I would have never tried anything other than modeling. If you have that person that really believes in you, it really does work" (from L'Officiel, interview by Joshua Glass, 23 Feb 2021 here).

Glenda Jackson appears uncredited as the overshadowed ageing star. It was one day's work. Christopher Gable is the male star.

Barbara Windsor in The Boyfriend

Barbara Windsor of the "Carry On" films appears. Russell wanted her to play differently from her usual image, but she didn't.  In her autobiography Barbara: The Autobiography of a Cockney Sparrow (1991) she says "When [Ken] asked me about making the Carry Ons, I told him we never did more than a couple of takes at the most... I soon discovered that Ken can do as many as 50 takes before he is satisfied".

Peter Maxwell Davis provides the music as he did for The Devils.  "Max [Peter Maxwell Davis] thoroughly enjoyed scoring it, writing adaptations of the pop jingles and also producing an original fantasy for a scene in which the heroine of the film imagines a series of dance numbers, which Max created himself" (Mike Seabrook,  Max- The Life and Music of Peter Maxwell Davies, chapter 7, 1994).

Photography is by David Watkin.  Russell wrote the screenplay.

Russell regulars are Michael Bradsell (editor) and Ken's wife Shirley Russell (costumes) as well as actors Christopher Gable and Glenda Jackson along with Max Adrian, Murray Melvin, Georgina Hale, Vladek Sheybal, Bryan Pringle, Adrian Faulds, George Armitage and Imogen Claire.

Sandy Wilson who wrote the original musical disapproved.  He was not consulted on the film having sold the rights years ago, and saw a programme on television about Russell which included a sequence from the film "in which Twiggy was apparently the unwilling victim of an open-air Roman orgy... an episode that was eventually excised from the film".  When Wilson saw the final film "I was prepared for it to be a travesty, but I did not expect it to be an accomplished travesty... it turned out to be nothing but a mess; a willful and at times incomprehensible confusion" (Sandy Wilson, I Could Be Happy, 1975, Postscript).

Best Image

Ken Russell The Boyfriend 

The dance sequences in Busby Berkley style are spectacular, below on a giant record player.

Ken Russell The Boyfriend 

Twiggy says co-star Chgristopher Gable "was painfully shy and we didn't talk much.  But he turned out to be a georgeous man and really helped me with the dance routines.  In one episode we had to dance on a record that was spinning round: just walking on it I fell down, but he held me up throughout" (Twiggy An Autobiography, 1976, chapter XI).

A review by Robert Ebert states the camera work "is so joyless that it undermines every scene" (8 Feb 1972 here).  Did he watch the same film?  In contrast "The Boy Friend isn't merely one of [Ken Russell's] most exuberant films, which is already saying plenty, but it's his happiest and most joyful" (Michael Barret, 15 Mar 2017 here).

Best Scene

Glenda Jackson telling the audience to be quiet as they clap the new star Twiggy.


Twiggy initially appears in a sailor's costume.
The innocent relationship of Twiggy and boyfriend.

Ken Russell The Boyfriend

Twiggy sees the photos of heartthrob Valentino - Ken would later make his film on Valentino.


Other films released in the same year include A Clockwork Orange, The French Connection and two more Russell films- The Devils and The Music Lovers.

A Clockwork Orange The French Connection The Devils  The Music Lovers


More films

Click title for film French Dressing * Billion Dollar Brain * Women in Love * The Music Lovers* The Devils * The Boy Friend * Savage Messiah * Mahler * Tommy * Lisztomania * Valentino * Altered States * Crimes of Passion * Gothic * Aria * The Lair of the White Worm * Salome's Last Dance * The Rainbow * Whore


click for previous films click for films index click for next films

home films tv/stage news forum shop more all the sites

www.iainfisher.com / send mail /  © 1998- 2023 Iain Fisher