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Ken Russell classic films

The Devils

Ken Russell The Devils

Ken Russell The Devils

Aldous Huxley's "The Devils of Loudon" filmed by Russell in 1971.  About power, corruption and political expediency in France as the church (Cardinal Richelieu) and crown (Louis XIII) battle for power over the city of Loudon, in France, protected by massive walls.  And Father Urbain Grandier in Loudon will fall victim, a priest who has lovers yet turns out to have nobility.

Ken Russell The Devils  Ken Russell The Devils

 The film confirms Russell's immense talent, and again the imagery is breathtaking.

Murray Melvin in The Devils   Ken Russell The Devils

     Vanessa Redgrave in The Devils

Ken Russell The Devils

Gaudier is tortured and burnt alive just before the walls of Loudon, and its independence, are destroyed.  Gaudier's wife is lost among the mountains of bricks as she climbs over the wall to leave the city, and the colour is bled away.

Ken Russell The Devils

Ken Russell The Devils

All released versions have been censored.  The power of Russell's imagery was so powerful that many critics complained of scenes which they thought were in the film, but were not, rather they were implied.

British Board of Film Censorship on The Devils

Correspondence from the British Board of Film Censorship on The Devils detailing the cuts they required (from BBC4 Dear Censor).

When on a television programme with Russell, critic Alexander Walker called the film "monstrously indecent". Russell famously hit him over the head with a rolled up newspaper.

The Devils Oliver Reed torture

The torture of Reed was censored in the original versions, but is included in later versions (it lasts seconds).  The rape of Christ scene was censored by the studio and was thought to be lost.  Mark Kermode did research on the filming of The Devils.  He says in The Observer 4 Dec 2011 "I was standing in Mothercare in Southampton when my mobile phone rang and a familiar voice came on the line. It was Tim, an archivist from Warners whom I had been pestering for years about trying to track down some long-lost film footage. 'I've got the tin you were asking for,' said Tim, with an edge of excitement in his voice. 'I'm not sure what's on it, because when I opened it, it smelt of vinegar, so I've sent it to be treated. But I had a quick look at the first couple of frames and from what I could see there was a bunch of naked nuns and a bloody massive crucifix…' 'I'll call you straight back,' I said, hastily hung up the phone and dialled another number. 'Ken, it's Mark. Listen, I'm in the nappy department of Mothercare and I think we just found the rape of Christ…'."  A restored version with the full sequence, was shown at the National Film Theatre on  23 Nov 2004.

Ken Russell The Devils

Ken Russell The Devils

The film was based on Aldous Huxley's 1952 rambling but interesting account of the actual incidents at Loudun, and on John Whiting´s 1961 stage play of the novel. The premiere of the play, 10 years before the film, included Max Adrian as Father Barre and Dorothy Tutin as Sister Jeanne, both in this film, though in different roles.

The Devils of Loudun 

Left Huxley's book reissued to cash in on the film and right an excellent 2015 performance of John Whiting's play by Sedos in London.



Oliver Reed in The Devils

Oliver Reed in another subtle performance as Grandier, possibly his best role.

Vanessa Redgrave is excellent as the prioress who loves Grandier from a distance. Her frustration causes her to denounce Grandier. Glenda Jackson turned the role down because parts were too similar to the madhouse scenes in The Music Lovers. Just as Jackson previously, Redgrave was pregnant during the filming, eventually having a miscarriage.  Most actors were chosen by Russell based on their physical appearance.

Ken Russell The Devils with Vanessa Redgrave

Peter Maxwell Davis provides the music. In the documentary Hell on Earth he says about Ken "People say oh he's got bad taste- well of course he has, thank God for that".  Derek Jarman provided the sets, massive brick constructions. The photography is by David Watkin, the editor is Michael Bradsell, costumes are by Shirley Russell.

British comedian Spike Milligan was a candidate for a part in the film (information from Spike by Norma Farnes).  Russell's early documentary Portrait of a Goon was about Milligan.

Judith Paris plays Sister Agnes but the credits incorrectly give the role as Sister Judith.

Judith Paris credits in The Devils



Best Image

Vanessa Redgrave in The Devils

Vanessa Redgrave´s entrance, head bowed under a low arch.

The Walls of Loudun by Derek Jarman

The walls of Loudun, by Derek Jarman, are vast and impressive.  Ken wanted them to look newly built.


Best Scene

Ken Russell The Devils

The holocaust imagery of bodies in the plague pit resemble the bodies in the bath (Billion Dollar Brain) and the plastic models being burnt in French Dressing.

The girl confessing a love affair to Reed, and by a slip of the tongue giving away that it is Reed she loves.

The girls dancing in devilish ecstasy until the vessel with the relic of the blood of Christ subdues them. Then it is revealed the vessel is empty, there was no blood.



Ken Russell The Devils

Christ imagery as the prioress dreams of Grandier as Christ walking on water.

The Walls of Loudin

Derek Jarman's sets for The Devils

The enormous walls of Loudun have the same splendour as the walls in Fritz Lang's Metropolis.

Unconsummated love (the prioress) and forbidden love (Grandier and lovers, and the homosexuality of the audience in the opening sequence watching the king in drag).  Lots of nuns.



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

A Clockwork Orange  The French Connection  The Music Lovers  The Boyfriend


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 * Mindbender * Trapped Ashes/ The Girl with the Golden Breasts


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