BBC4 drama Part One Written by William Ivory
"One must learn to love, and go through a good deal of suffering to get to it, and the journey is always towards the other soul." DH Lawrence
Written by William Ivory, this new two part drama for BBC4 is an adaptation of the modernist writer DH Lawrence’s two classic novels ‘The Rainbow’ published in 1915 and ‘Women in Love’ later in 1920. Of course there will be the purists that will not like the 'mish mashing' of two novels, but so far I think it works. Surely it's impossible to disappoint with a writer so ahead of his time, his books were burnt after the successful prosecution of obscenity and not published until a decade later, he was clearly entertaining enough to ruffle a few feathers.
Lawrence always seemed uncannily tuned into the role of women; sexuality, marriage and independence in particular, at this beginning to a new century along side so much social change and the ever growing rights for women.
There is a lot of feminist dispute about whether he thought his female characters were making life too hard for themselves in these modern pursuits and should have settled down, or whether he thought the plight of female liberation and difficulty were something of a message in his stories for women to ‘not settle for less’ in their pursuit of passion and living life.
Whichever way you decide to go after reading his novels, there is no doubt that he had a fascination and understanding for femininity which could perhaps have come from his relationship with his own mother; the point is his stories are riveting and make him one of the greats of modernist writers.
William Ivory, a fellow Nottinghamshire dweller of Lawrence, has a love for this writer and this drama does, for this opening, bring together two of his greatest achievements successfully; beautifully shot, gorgeous costume and scenes of moving intensity between sisters, couples, lovers; everything that makes us human.
The drama is based mostly around the pursuit of passion of two sisters Ursula (Rachael Stirling) and Gudrun (Rosamond Pike) Brangwen. The web of relationships around them indicate a need for ‘being true to oneself’.
From their very working class parents Anna (Saskia Reeves) and Will Brangwen (Ben Daniels) struggling with a dip in passion in their marriage after many children and fears of aging to the closet homosexual church man Rupert Birkin (Rory Kinnear) harbouring feelings for the classless oaf and industrialist Gerald Crich (Joseph Mawle), there are a host of characters struggling with love and impulse.
The opening scenes set the relationships up with dialogue, close ups of wedding rings, religious imagery, the blood of a miscarriage trickling down Ursula’s leg after an unsatisfactory sexual encounter with the quite unappealing Anton Skrebensky (Joseph Kennedy).
DH Lawrence wrote about living life dangerously so of course sex plays a huge part in everything he writes in his study of familial relationships. And this is where part one of this drama begins and ends; the unmarried briefly pregnant Ursula and then the dumped Gudrun after her married lover will not allow any more ‘decay’ so vanishes leaving her and his devoted wife and children. Hmmm perhaps Lawrence was axe grinding about these modern women with their need for variety?
Meanwhile Anna and Will Brangwen try to be thoroughly modern as she tells her husband to take a lover and sighs ‘you don’t understand me’ … but in a very touching scene, Will returns to his ‘girl’ realising she is the only one he can look upon, cut to crying baby, nappies everywhere and what seems to be at least ten children filling the house.
Anyway rushing too far ahead, Ursula seems the older and wiser sister as she tells her art student boho chic little sister about her so called modernity in reference to men;
“You still orbit them, make them the light by which you are illuminated."
So clearly not as modern as she thinks. To end with ‘You may as well climb into this bed with me’ shows the outcome of most women who pursue passion in these times, the ultimate bullet you will carry for 9 months as a single woman.
The class struggle and tension between Gudrun and her parents, in particular her father Will, is evident as he begs her to help him understand her ‘London crowd’. It could echo Lawrence’s own experience as a great writer who grew up in the modest household of a miner in Nottinghamshire.
Both Ursula and Gudrun are trying not to fall into their mother’s ‘perceived’ trap. Ursula’s blood gives Anna a flashback, one of many used in this drama, to her wedding night. Interspersed with poor Ursula’s seedy encounter against a fruit and vegetable stall is the tension of her parents passionless bedroom, lights off and mechanical. Another flashback to Ursula’s childhood hints slightly at all these women in their relationships with each other and for their father/husband struggling in their ‘orbits’ to be the brightest light.
Rupert Birkin’s story and obvious homosexuality hinted at his sexual difficulty with Hermione Roddice (Olivia Grant) and revealed in his feelings for Gerald Crich only really started to draw me in towards the end of this episode.
His ever building crisis of faith starts to spiral as Hermione taunts him with the claim that the union of a man and woman is at the heart of the Christian Church. It will be interesting to see how he develops in this crisis coupled with his struggle with his own sexuality.
Gerald Crich clearly has his own parental issues with a domineering father who he flinches from when he goes to touch him and later orders him back into the lake to find his sister's long drowned body.
The passion or lust discursive throughout is so brilliantly captured by Anna Brongwen’s words to Ursula;
“Find love that burns your very soul, and know this, it will burn your body too, and if it does not, then you’re not in love”.
This spurs Ursula on to finish her passionless relationship with the creepy Anton but with tragic result that seemed inevitable as she questioned his manhood. The rainbow in the background could symbolise Ursula’s connection to nature, the seven rays of light and peace giving her strength to get through what is about to happen.
The scenes between Will and Anna are quite moving as she demands he takes a lover but comes back to her. Attempting this he realises the young girl is a mistake and Anna is ‘his girl’;
“She had your skin, and now it’s not, that’s alright, it got like that with me."
He returns to Anna’s bedroom ‘unfettered’ and tells her ‘You are my soul’, a heartening scene amongst all the build up of gloom, Ursula and Gudrun both humiliated by their lovers, Rupert’s ‘trap’ on the train and Gerald’s anger at his father, his sister’s death and his subsequent seedy sex with the young girl Abby (Jenna Dunster) to prove he’s alive and ‘a man’ after the humiliation of failing his father.
Do you need to be familiar with DH Lawrence to really appreciate this? No I don't think so and hopefully some will pick up the books of this sometimes overlooked writer as a result.
Catch up with Part One : Women in Love on BBC iplayer
Catch up with what William Ivory has to say about his love for DH Lawrence
Part Two on this evening at 9pm...enjoy!