Women In Heat would have been a more appropriate title for William Ivory’s adaptation of the classic D H Lawrence novel Women In Love on BBC 4 last night. The number of couplings, failed couplings – including one homosexual encounter – and some discrete masturbation (female) must have run into double figures. And this was only Part 1.
With Ken Russell’s movie still standing up well, it’s difficult to imagine the TV version would have got off the ground but for the 90 minute airtime included more heavy breathing than at a dogging convention.
Or that's the way it seemed. Lawrence’s views on sexual freedom and spirituality all but snuffed out his ideas on class, art, militarism, industrialisation - and the plot.
It will be interesting to see how next week’s viewing figures compare. I doubt if sophisticated audiences can be seduced by the expectation of more nudity and rumpy-pumpy. Popular historical drama series on television owe their ratings to strong narratives to which ‘naughty’ episodes can provide the spice but not the substance.
The excellent review by Jasper Rees of The Arts Desk examines where Ivory departs from Lawrence’s story. He should have been bolder and taken out the unintended laughs in the novelist’s portentous prose.
It’s a pity the talents of a starry cast - Rachael Stirling and Rosamund Pike(pictured left) play the Brangwen sisters Ursula and Gudrun and Saskia Reeves their mother (visiting from the ‘prequel’ The Rainbow) – couldn’t have been better employed.
If the BBC doesn’t have enough faith in contemporary fiction and must re-visit the classics for adaptations, the novels of Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, and H G Wells have something to say in these cash-strapped times to today’s television audiences. They just have to be jazzed up to please the BBC’s programme planners. Knickerless Nickleby anyone?
PS It seems I'm the only critic who thinks the Women in Love adaptation was a disaster. In the Sunday Times the usually reliable A A Gill blamed Lawrence but William Ivory has taken so many liberties, the fault is his. Last night's second installment managed to be worse than the first. The only surprise is how he managed to convince fine actors to shed their clothes in completely gratuitous circumstances. Ken Russell still rules.