21 July 2004 | didi-5
This touching and bittersweet BBC drama about the final years of the composer Delius, and the role played by young composer Eric Fenby in helping to set down the last great works of the blind and paralysed genius, is truly wonderful.
Now available on Region 0 DVD, thanks to the BFI's Archive Television strand, this example of Ken Russell's early work can be enjoyed by a wider audience once again. The role of Delius is taken by the overbearing presence of Max Adrian, for once not swamping the screen and portraying the composer as a man at odds with the world but at one with its mysteries as they apply to his music. Jelka, Mrs Delius, is played sensitively by Maureen Pryor - the wife brought low by the neglect and cruelty of a tyrannical spouse who nevertheless finds joy, hope and devotion in the contemplation of his musical gift.
By far the most impressive player in this small cast though is the much-missed Christopher Gable, taking the role of Fenby in his first foray into acting after retirement from leading roles with the Royal Ballet. Russell would use Gable well in other films, notably The Music Lovers and The Boy Friend, (and a further, much more controversial film about Richard Strauss), but for me it was an eye opener to see how well he portrays Eric Fenby here - a shy, complex Yorkshireman whose self-sacrifice, as Delius says, gives the ageing composer back his life.
Ken Russell's work became more and more overblown and outrageous through the 1970s and 1980s (although always interesting, visually stunning, and unique). 'Song of Summer' proves his worth as a filmmaker of sensitivity and quiet - the scene where, in flashback, Delius watches his last sunset before his sight fails him, is worth watching this film for on its own.