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  Music Lovers, The Making Overtures
Year: 1970
Director: Ken Russell
Stars: Richard Chamberlain, Glenda Jackson, Max Adrian, Christopher Gable, Kenneth Colley, Izabella Telezynska, Maureen Pryor, Sabina Maydelle, Andrew Faulds, Bruce Robinson, Ben Aris, Xavier Russell, Dennis Myers, John Myers, Joanne Brown
Genre: Biopic, MusicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: When Peter Tchaikovsky (Richard Chamberlain) was starting out in the music composition business, he was as carefree as he ever would be, living it up in Moscow with his lover Count Anton Chiluvsky (Christopher Gable) and beginning to make a name for himself with his first symphony while he worked as a tutor at the Academy of Music. But his lifestyle was proving problematic, and his brother Modeste (Kenneth Colley) warns him that society will not be looking kindly on him should he pursue the relationship. So what can Peter do but get married?

The director of The Music Lovers was Ken Russell, and at the time he would tell anyone who would listen this was the story of a homosexual who married a nymphomaniac, setting out his aggressively populist style and his drive to bring culture to the masses. Naturally, this made him a lot of highbrow enemies critically speaking, and if it seems his works have fallen out of favour in recent years it's worth remembering that he was never more than a cult success, as even his films that were hits spoke to a very particular sensibility that not everyone could embrace wholeheartedly and without embarrassment.

This composer biopic genre was something he had perfected during his television years of the sixties, and was now bringing that to the big screen, so predictably those who had turned against him in that time were up in arms about Russell and screenwriter Melvin Bragg riding roughshod over their take on the Tchaikovsky life story, something the dismayed would endlessly point out only had a glancing familiarity with the actual events. Yet Russell was not making a documentary, he was straining with every sinew to bring the music to its utmost vibrancy, forcing the audience to understand how the artist had brought his entire self to his work.

According to this, Tchaikovsky was so ashamed of his homosexuality that his attempts to cover it up sent not only him around the bend, but his wife Nina (Glenda Jackson) too, a fragile soul who romanticises her relationships with men but is continually left battered and bruised by the results of choosing the wrong ones - sometimes literally as well as emotionally. Once Peter marries her, he finds he can no longer write because he is struggling with turning his back on what he truly is, something of a biopic cliché in its "you must be true to yourself to create your best work" fashion, but what would a movie like this be if its subject was well-balanced and healthy?

Russell and Bragg certainly piled on the angst and suffering, with Tchaikovsky defined not by his male connections but by the women in his life - Nina, sister-in-law Sasha (Sabina Maydelle), his mother whose death he witnessed as a child, his chief source of funds Madame Nadedja von Meck (Izabella Telezynska) who he famously never met - except here he sort of does. The tone careered from morose, almost kitchen sink drama to delirium often within the matter of minutes, as we were offered what amounted to pop videos mounted to the classical music, with Russell predictably going overboard with his indulgences, but entertainingly so. He never lost sight of those compositions that made his protagonist so enduring, and if Chamberlain was not the best choice for the role (though he mimes the piano excellently), Jackson threw herself into hers wholeheartedly, going far further than many actresses would be prepared to do. If the surface mattered more than the depth, The Music Lovers was tailor made for cult.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Ken Russell  (1927 - 2011)

It was trips to the cinema with his mother that made British director, writer and producer Ken Russell a lifelong film fan and this developed into making his own short films. From there, he directed dramas on famous composers for the BBC, and was soon making his own features.

French Dressing did not make much of an impact, but if his Harry Palmer episode Billion Dollar Brain was fairly well received, then his follow up, Women in Love really put Russell on the international movie map. From there the seventies produced most of the highlights of his career, never shying away from controversy, with The Music Lovers, The Devils (most reviled of his films and his masterpiece), musical The Boy Friend, and more music and artist based works with Savage Messiah, Mahler, Tommy (the film of The Who's concept album) and Lisztomania.

After the seventies, which he ended with the biopic Valentino, his popularity declined somewhat with Altered States suffering production difficulties and later projects difficult to get off the ground. Nevertheless, he directed Crimes of Passion, Gothic, Salome's Last Dance, cult horror Lair of the White Worm and The Rainbow in the eighties, but the nineties and beyond saw more erratic output, with many short films that went largely unseen, although a UK TV series of Lady Chatterley was a success. At the age of 79 he appeared on reality TV show Celebrity Big Brother but walked out after a few days. Russell was one of Britain's most distinctive talents, and his way of going passionately over the top was endearing and audacious, while he rarely lost sight of his stories' emotional aspects.

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