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Ken Russell later films


Ken Russell - The Rainbow title

"From the early moments of his new film, when a glittering rainbow arches over emerald green meadows, it is apparent that Ken Russell is the purest interpreter D. H. Lawrence could have hoped for" (Caryn James, New York Times,  5 May 1989)

Ken Russell filming of DH Lawrence's The Rainbow.  The film was an attempt to revive the success of Women in Love and while it almost succeeds critically, it failed commercially.

Ken Russell The Rainbow  Ken Russell The Rainbow

The Rainbow is the prequel of DH Lawrence's Women in Love. Whereas the novel covers many generations living through the industrialisation of North England, Russell focuses on the rites of passage of Ursula from the child looking at the rainbow through to her self-realisation. She calls herself "a bird blown out of its own latitude".

"Women in Love was all about passionate expression; Ursula and her sister Gudrun created themselves as colorfully and self-consciously as if they were modernist works of art.  The Rainbow tells of the young Ursula's struggle against the genteel, repressive world into which she was born... Ken and Vivian Russell's script takes some liberties with the novel, creating sharply drawn characters to surround their heroine" (Caryn James, New York Times,  5 May 1989).

Ken Russell The Rainbow   Ken Russell The Rainbow

As a teenager Ursula meets the dashing soldier, who almost seduces her in a church, slowly peeling off her glove, reminiscent of Brando picking up the glove in On the Waterfront.

But he cannot compete with the forbidden eroticism of the swimming instructor.  Ursula asserts her freedom by becoming a teacher, in a Dickensian school, but it is an unhappy place as she is caught between leering masters and prank-playing children.

Ken Russell The Rainbow

Discovering she is pregnant her only hope seems to be with the soldier, but she discovers he has since married.  Caught in a fog she comes across horses which terrify her and she flees, the flight across a river causing a fever which almost kills her. She wakes at home, with her parents looking after her, and a rainbow outside her window encourages her to decide her future.

"The film reeks of mediocrity, floundering in banal imagery (kisses against boughs, rushing waterfalls, etc). Many essentials in what is a masterful three-generation novel have been jettisoned, and Carl Davis' score is formulary in the extreme. Saving graces are Sammi Davis' earthy, matter-of-fact portrayal of Ursula, and Amanda Donohoe's sensitive Winifred" (WH in Timeout, no date, click here).

"this is not a nostalgic costume drama, dripping with atmosphere. Russell has kept all of the hurt and anger of Lawrence's fiction. This is a movie that speaks to today, that could feel like an anthem to a young woman who feels that her spirit is not free... in The Rainbow he has made a measured, thoughtful literary adaptation. He obviously believes Lawrence's message is as appropriate now as it was then, and, of couse, he is right" (Roger Egbert, 2 Jun 1989 click here).

Russell uses many of the same people, actors and technicians, who had worked on Women in Love: Glenda Jackson and Christopher Gable, cinematographer Billy Williams and George Cole, gaffer.  The film company, Vestron, went bankrupt just before the release, so the film had no advertising whatsoever.


Sammi Davis in The Rainbow   Amanda Donohoe in The Rainbow

Sammi Davis (Lair of the White Worm) stars. Amanda Donohoe, also from Lair, has a major role. Both are good.

Christopher Gable in The Rainbow   Glenda Jackson in The Rainbow

Glenda Jackson is superb acting as the mother. She plays the part so naturally you would never guess she is a double Oscar winning actress. Christopher Gable is equally convincing.  "Glenda Jackson... has a brief stunning role as Ursula's mother.  In a few scenes, she suggests all the tension we ought to find in the daughter" (Caryn James, New York Times,  5 May 1989).

Molly Russell, Ken's daughter and Rupert Russell, his son, play the children.  Other regulars are David Hemmings (Clouds of Glory), Judith Paris, Kenneth Colley (Modeste in The Music Lovers).  The music of Carl Davis fits in well with film (for example the scene destroying the cabbages), and Imogen Claire does the choreography.  Photography was by Billie Williams and Peter Davis was the editor.  The book was adapted by Ken and then wife Vivian Russell. The only weaknesses in the script are the cursory references to industrialisation, which should have been dropped, and the confrontation with the horses where the symbolism is not clear.

Ken Russell - The Rainbow - credit

Best Image

Ken Russell The Rainbow  Ken Russell The Rainbow

The rows of swimmers like tadpoles...  and the lesbian lovers swim against the flow.

Ken Russell - The Rainbow - rainbow sandwich

The rainbow sandwich.

"Russell exploits the cinematic tools in very creative ways, especially when dealing with the pervading
image of the rainbow. Besides opening and closing the film, the iridescent arch appears in different shots, reflected on the
window glass of Ursula’s bedroom or on her face. In particular, in the pre-credit sequence Russell even has it recreated in a
“culinary” form when Will Brangwen spreads different types of jams to draw a colourful arch on a toast he offers young Ursula,
in an attempt to cheer her up. Tellingly, although fascinated by the real thing, the child refuses to eat the “surrogate” rainbow"(Raffaella Antinucci, Going “beyond”: Ken Russell’s The Rainbow (1989) from D.H. Lawrence's The Ranbow Re-Readingzs of a Radical Text, edited by
Renzo D’Agnillo).

Best Scene

Ken Russell The Rainbow

The lesbian seduction in the swimming pool.


Ken Russell The Rainbow   Ken Russell The Rainbow

The rocking horse (also in Russell's A British Picture and In Search of the English Folk Songs) and real horses.

Ken Russell The Rainbow

The schoolgirls wear sailor suits.

The painter and his model.
Sexuality (repressed, lesbian), hills and lakes and Catholicism (various church sequences).



Other films released in the same year include Born on the Fourth of July, Black Rain and Driving Miss Daisy.

Born on the Fourth of July  Black Rain  Driving Miss Daisy


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


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