TV miniseries review: Women in Love (2011), directed by Miranda Bowen
CW: Mention of rape.
What do you do on Easter when you’ve caught up with your TV shows on demand, and have a number of twigs to whittle and want something in the background that isn’t too distracting? You realise that hey, didn’t you record that miniseries that you could only get through about 40 minutes before you switched to Jane Eyre ’06 instead? Something to pass the time while whittling away, and which I needed some form of distraction in order to get through. Perfect!
To sum up Women in Love in one word: arty.
Which is good if you happen to like things that are arty. I, on the other hand, do not. “Look at these lush camera shots! Can you see how we’ve managed to capture existential angst by using a hand-held camera? Marvellous, darling, this will really have those Culture Show people enthralled!” For me, it’s a snoozefest.
It’s not that the actors aren’t good, because they are.
It’s not that what the characters are up to isn’t engaging, because it is (sort of).
It’s not that they’ve filmed in South Africa and think we’ll believe they’re in Nottinghamshire, because … well, no, I don’t believe it very much actually. Just something about the light and general ambiance (said in a nasal, posh and decidedly faux French way) that feels wrong. I don’t buy it.
Perhaps it’s because I haven’t really enjoyed the book. Odds of me reading The Rainbow after seeing this? Still slim to none. The Rainbow is what part one is based on, which is a prequel to Women in Love. It’s got the major characters -the Brangwen sisters Ursula (Rachael Stirling) and Gudrun (Rosamund Pike), with Gerald Crich (Joseph Mawle) and Rupert Birkin (Rory Kinnear). They’re all living their separate more or less miserable lives in different places, Birkin having a secret crush on Crich, Gudrun snatching married art teachers from their wives in London and Ursula being a stupid cow back home in Nottinghamshire.
“OMG, I can’t believe you called Ursula a stupid cow! She got raped! It’s not her fault!” Damn straight, getting raped wasn’t her fault. But you have to be pretty darn stupid to say to the person you’re planning on breaking up with: “hey, let’s go to the coast”. The nearest coast is about a two-hour drive away in a modern car. And when you’re there on the beach and he says it’s probably time to start heading back, because you know it’s a GOOD TWO HOUR’S DRIVE BACK, you dump him. If he wasn’t a frickin’ rapist bastard, it would’ve just made for a very long and awkward journey back. But no, right there and then, he turned out to be a rapist bastard who won’t take “you never satisfy me physically” in good spirit. (Ursula, “it’s not you, it’s me” would probably have been a safer thing to say.) Awkward journey? Well, at least it was cut short by 18 miles, as he ordered her out of the car. So why did she just meekly comply with his “and your shoes” command? Barefoot, 18 miles from home and no way of getting there except for walking. Charming man. She should’ve dumped him before even getting into the car and suggesting they go to the seaside. Goodness sake. I even made use of an ‘Allo ‘Allo catchphrase hearing Ursula’s speech on the beach: “You stupid woman!”
Part one also included a scene in an art studio which was quite hot between Gudrun and that art teacher, but away from that setting, he wasn’t quite as steamy. Oh yes, and there were scenes where the Brangwen parents were having marital difficulties, and Birkin who couldn’t quite “get it up” for his taunting girlfriend Hermione (Olivia Grant). Maybe because he was too busy secretly swooning over Gerald Crich.
Part two is based on Women in Love. This was a bit more enjoyable, perhaps simply because of the recognition factor. “Hey, I remember that from the book!” Hermione now showed up as the annoying ex who keeps interfering – when she’s not busy clobbering people with blunt objects (I kind of brushed over that bit in the book, then stopped and said “wait, WHAT?!” as I realised what had just happened and had to go back and read it again). Some things perhaps made more sense seeing it played out on the screen, especially having seen the first episode which put things into perspective. The characters were not as disagreeable as in the book, because here they weren’t given as much time to vent their petty arguments.
Anyway, part two has the four people pairing up into two couples: Ursula and Rupert, Gudrun and Gerald. They go to Africa because I suppose it made the storytelling easier, seeing as how they actually were in Africa when filming. Snow-covered Alps of southern Germany perhaps a bit more difficult to re-create than nondescript English woodland. There, they go to a party and shit happens. The very fact that shit happened has made me slightly more interested in finishing the book just to see it happen there as well. Just a shame it won’t be happening to all of them, because then I’d say “and good riddance too!”
If you like the D.H. Lawrence originals, in all their arty, hoity-toity glory, then you might enjoy this. If you like the idea of Joseph Mawle and Rory Kinnear wrestling naked on a beach in Africa, you’ll definitely enjoy at least a couple of minutes of it. If you like naked people in general, you’ll enjoy a whole lot. If, on the other hand, you found the books to be dull snoozefests, odds are this production is not going to help you change your mind, but at least three hours is going to be a lot quicker to get through than those two books.
But like I said – I can’t really find any actual fault with the production as such. It’s well made and well acted and everything, but it’s just … dull. I blame the source material. D.H. Lawrence has written some things which I have really enjoyed reading, but he does have a tendency to be speaking in symbolism rather than what he actually means, and that really doesn’t work for a plain-speakin’ gal like me. So there.
2 out of 5 horses.