Sons and Lovers (1960)
D. H. Lawrence is at an all time low in popularity--both his books and the movies based on them. Why? Good question. It's more than just passing tastes. I think it has to do with the precious boundary breaking that once made Lawrence a daring darling of the literary set. Sexual taboos have since been so radically eclipsed, from Henry Miller to John Updike, not to mention hundreds of less mainstream authors, Lawrence is almost stuffy and pretentious.
Or so it would seem. "Sons and Lovers" is a love story set in a tough mining town in England early in the 20th Century. It's filled with the longing of a man to rise out of these pits and be "something" in the world--namely, a successful painter. The girl who loves him is overly devoted, and after a tryst (that was the radical part) there is a falling apart of things. How true this can be! I mean, this is great stuff--a sensitive story about the feelings most of us have had, where desire is mistaken for something deeper, where the world is calling and love, or shades of love, are not enough to keep you home.
The filming is straight out of the gritty, short period of British films known rough as the British New Wave or the Angry Young Men (or both). These films, a grown out of French New Wave and early Italian neo-realism, were a reaction against the slick and vacuous big studio filmmaking (Hollywood especially) from this period. There are more typical films from this group than "Sons and Lovers" but it's certainly part of that mood, looking at working class life, filming with great economy and directness, and using actors in a realistic, vaguely documentary way. For insight into this kind of film, try "Loneliness of a Long Distance Runner" or "Look Back in Anger." Even the first Beatles film, oddly enough, is influenced by this movement ("A Hard Day's Night"), in the raw, fast, black and white style.
But if that's the context, you still have to ask if this film is any good. And the answer is quite. It's a big movie, a deep movie, emotional and deeply serious. It is sad, too, overall, or perhaps melancholy is a better word, and this gloom is slightly wearing after a bit. Some people will find that talking about love is a peculiarly British and indirect way of being in love--the literary overwhelms the truth.
Director Jack Cardiff is a cinematographer above all. This might explain the visual emphasis, the sublime, restrained photography. Lead young actor Dean Stockwell is a perfect visual cast, and he really is good, somehow, in a way that is convincing, though he isn't always commanding. A small part of me didn't care what happened to anyone in the movie. It was all plain to see, and I knew what I was supposed to feel, but I didn't always get the force of those feelings.
The movie, like the book, is patient and deliberate, and quite nuanced and beautiful.