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The first experiences of a young man in the mysteries of a woman!
Adapting a beloved novel into a film is always a challenging task, let alone trying to produce a multi-generational tale centered on the theme of physical passion. By narrowing the focus to just one section of the novel, while remaining true to the themes of the source material, the creative team behind Sons and Lovers delivers an emotionally complicated and subtle film.
Facts of the Case
Loosely based on the novel by the great D.H. Lawrence, Sons and Lovers is the story of Paul (Dean Stockwell, Quantum Leap)—son of an emotionally manipulative mother (Wendy Hiller, A Man for All Seasons) and alcoholic father (Trevor Howard, Mutiny on the Bounty)—who gives up his artistic passions to stay with his mother. Initially redirecting those passions towards the young Miriam (Heather Sears, Room at the Top), mom's skepticism and the girl's hesitancy about intimacy lead Paul to become involved with Clara (Mary Ure, Where Eagles Dare), a suffragette separated from her husband. Despite the fact that Clara is exactly what Paul thought he wanted, he remains possessed by his mother and struggles to become his own man.
Sons and Lovers had the potential to be a major disappointment. Far too often filmmakers eschew the emotional complexities of a classic novel, taking its plot points and constructing a simple narrative. It's easy to imagine a film telling the story of a young man torn between two very different women, his devoted mother being the man's only true source of love. Instead, and rather remarkably for the era, the film maintains much of the emotional complexity and frank attitude toward the themes of the second half of the novel, offering an honest look at misplaced passion.
In excising the first part of the novel, the film loses Lawrence's even deeper emotional complexities, some of which explained the characters' actions more fully. While the artful inclusion of this material might have added more depth, it could just have easily muddled the narrative and oversimplified the characters. It would have been interesting to see, but Sons and Lovers does not suffer for its absence.
The emotional complexity of Gavin Lambert and T.E.B. Clarke's screenplay is aided by the performances of Trevor Howard and Wendy Hiller as Paul's parents. Both avoid the easy trappings of the overbearing mother and alcoholic father with nuanced portrayals. Stockwell, Sears, and Ure give us slightly less defined characters, but each favors subtlety over melodrama and are more than credible.
Nominated for seven Academy Awards, Sons and Lovers received its sole golden statue for Freddie Francis' black and white cinematography. The film is beautifully lit and shot, with deep contrasts and shadows adding depth to nearly every frame.
Fox Cinema Archives series is studio's attempt at the releasing of some of the more obscure films from their catalog. Because of the inherent limited commercial appeal, these releases eschew bonus features and any sort of remastering. Sons and Lovers is one of Fox's better looking and sounding MOD (Made-On-Demand) DVDs. While some reels look better than others, and certain shots have a noticeable amount of visual noise, this 50+ year old film looks pretty outstanding, relaying its lush black and white cinematography with minimal degradation. The Dolby 2.0 Stereo track is serviceable but does little to enhance the experience. As expected, there are no bonus features.
Sons and Lovers serves as a reference model for any filmmaker seeking to adapt a great work of literature. By telling the story fearlessly, without sacrificing any of its emotional complexities or uncomfortable subject matter, we get a fine film on its own terms and as a credit to Lawrence's masterpiece.
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