Viewed – 21 March 2012 DVD
Occasionally here at The Movie Report, I come across movies that for a moment, I hesitate slipping into my DVD player. Yet movies that court controversy and have had a torrid history with the censors have often intrigued me … call it the forbidden fruit. One such movie is this, the late Ken Russell’s politically themed religious drama, starring the late, great Oliver Reed and also Vanessa Redgrave. Reed plays a priest who manipulates women into his bed by using his religious beliefs and standing, and attracts the jealousy and hatred of a conflicted nun (Redgrave) who cursed with deformity, has never been able to capture the priest’s eye, and therefore accuses him of the devil’s work.
This brash, in-yer-face movie seems hell-bent on shocking and offending the viewer from the beginning. Perhaps in the seventies, this would have been outrageous viewing, but these days with movies dripping with violence, sex, bad language and pretty much anything you can think of … it’s very difficult to be moved by much of what this movie is trying to hit you with. Acting-wise Oliver Reed is excellent as the priest, as is a hysterical Redgrave in possibly her most controversial role. The avant-garde set designs by Derek Jarman are also something to behold and is one of the reasons that over 40 years later, this movie still looks fantastic. Some of the more censor-bating moments, like an orgy and religious imagery (such as a Christ-immitating Oliver Reed) have mostly been toned down in this ‘x’ certificate cut, which post battle-with-the-censors, has less of the shock moments intact than the director originally intended.
As an example of British cinema at it’s more daring and of a famed director, this certainly remains worth your time. Although if you’re expecting to be shocked to your core, then sorry – this was just to pantomime at times to be taken seriously. I am glad I have finally seen it all the way through, but despite good performances and technically good direction, it failed to effect me in the way its controversial legacy lead me to believe.
This newly released Special Edition DVD from BFI, has a packed booklet exploring the movie and it’s censorship issues, and on the movie itself we get an introduction from Brit film critic Mark Kermode, and a commentary from Ken Russell amongst others. Then on a second DVD we get several in-depth documentaries exploring the history and the making of the movie as well as its standing in British cinema history, with lots of previously thought to be lost footage, including glimpses of the infamous ‘rape of christ’ sequence. A very impressive package.
Verdict: 3 /5