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DVD: Ken Russell - The Great Passions | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: Ken Russell - The Great Passions

DVD: Ken Russell - The Great Passions

The cultural provocateur takes on Henri Rousseau, Isadora Duncan and Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Oliver Reed as Dante Gabriel Rossetti in Ken Russell's gung-ho 'Dante's Inferno'

The trio of Sixties television documentaries assembled here are prototypical examples of Ken Russell’s oeuvre: hyper-real, and often frenzied, depictions of the lives of their subjects. Each not-quite or more-than documentary was made for the BBC in an era when boundaries were pushed and the corporation allowed directors to follow their artistic sensibilities. Although there is little immediate link with the Ken Loach of 1966’s Cathy Come Home, both he and Russell thrived in the fertile environment of a BBC which took chances.

The Great Passions collects Always on Sunday (1965), a portrayal of painter Henri Rousseau; Isadora: The Biggest Dancer in the World (1966) an account of Isadora Duncan; and Dante's Inferno (1967), which, although dwelling on Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his model Elizabeth Siddal, digs into the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood overall. The set is issued as a dual format package on DVD and Blu-ray. The discs are stuffed with extras. While the commentaries, interview with Russell’s editor Michael Bradsell and audio-only interviews are fascinating, the real bonus gem is Late Night Line-Up: Russell at Work, a 1966 documentary made while Isadora was being filmed. The Great Passions is accompanied into the shops by The Great Composers, a collection of his documentaries on composers which will be covered later this week on theartsdesk.

While the terrific Always on Sunday has great verve and lightness of touch, Isadora falters due to pace-interrupting dance sequences – ironic, considering it is about a dancer and its director had wanted to be a ballet dancer. Vivian Pickles as Duncan is captivating though. Equally magnetic is Oliver Reed’s high-octane rendering of Rossetti in the febrile Dante's Inferno. As well as being almost as delirious as Russell’s 1970 film The Music Lovers, the gung-ho Dante's Inferno is notable as it features real-life artist Derek Boshier as John Everett Millais and Caroline Coon, the future founder of the drug-support charity Release, music journalist and manager of the punk band The Clash, as Annie Miller. These aspects of the casting underscore that Russell was a cultural provocateur whose pop-art sensibility enviably melded distinct aspects of the arts to each other. A highly recommended release.

Oliver Reed’s high-octane rendering of Rossetti in the febrile 'Dante's Inferno' is magnetic

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Editor Rating: 
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Average: 4 (1 vote)

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why can't I get a dvd or blu ray disc of the Great Passions that will work on US players?

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