By Richard Winters
My Rating: 6 out of 10
4-Word Review: Madness has no bounds.
This is a revealing look at Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Richard Chamberlain) and based on his own personal correspondences as he fought his homosexual tendencies by marrying Nina (Glenda Jackson) a woman he really did not love. Her nymphomania becomes something he cannot satisfy and he eventually abandons her where they then both go on to suffer their own personal forms of madness.
Pianists and composers were like what rock stars are today and I liked how director Ken Russell handles the concert sequence by infusing in the thoughts of the people as they listen to the music and therefore allowing the viewer to visualize the experience of a concert goer.
The scenes with Nina in the asylum are a good example of the grotesque imagery, but they are also well orchestrated and quite memorable. However at times it also gets overdone and unintentionally comical especially the sequence involving Chamberlain’s ill-fated attempt at lovemaking to Jackson on a shadowy, bouncing train car.
Russell shows no feeling for the subject and seems more interested in using it only as an excuse to show off his flashy style. The viewer is never allowed to get emotionally attached to the characters as we are only given a fragment of what these people were like and never the whole picture. The emphasis seems exclusively on their dark and self-destructive sides and watching their descent into madness is not very inspiring or insightful.
The casting of Chamberlain was a poor choice as the guy seems to have a very limited acting range. He is good looking, but lacks the charisma and his facial expressions rarely change while he shifts badly from underplaying the part to overplaying it.
Jackson fares far better and this could be considered a real find for her fans because she plays a type of character that she has never done before, or since. Usually she plays strong willed people, but here her character is weak allows herself to be dominated and exploited shamelessly even by her own mother while also taking part in a very provocative nude scene.
Overall if you like Russell’s style then you will enjoy it more than others. Otherwise it comes off as shallow, moody, and fragmented with some real slow spots during the middle half.
My Rating: 6 out of 10
Released: January 24, 1971
Runtime: 2Hours 4Minutes
Director: Ken Russell
Studio: United Artists
Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video