Christopher Miles, brother of Sarah, has garnered only sporadic directorial assignments, but he made an exceptionally fine film of D. H. Lawrence’s posthumously published 1926 novella The Virgin and the Gypsy. Miles, apparently, was inspired to bring a work by Lawrence to the British screen by the success of Ken Russell’s bold, sexually charged Women in Love (1969). If nothing else, Miles has made a more unified and appealing film.
The postwar drama is set in an Anglican vicarage in the East Midlands. The Rector, who is consumed with anguish over his wife’s abandonment years earlier, has two daughters, one of whom, Yvette, has just returned from school in France. (It is in France where Lawrence’s manuscript was discovered after his death.) Yvette is more dissatisfied than ever by the uneventful tenor of her home village, the coldness of her relations, including a vicious aunt (Kay Walsh, excellent), and their narrow-mindedness. Oh, she is still a virgin; but Yvette is ambivalent about sexual love, having seen little evidence of its reality. This will change when she meets an intriguing married gypsy, who sparks daydreams, and a verboten couple consisting of a not-yet-divorced (in the book, Jewish) woman and her live-in slacker-lover. Sexually repressed, Yvette is headed for a bursting dam.
There is a marvelous dinner-table scene that targets stifling conformity and familial inwardness and mental tyranny. It all has to do with the number of potatoes each member wants! After the launch, each soul chooses a number of potatoes in reaction to the number that the previous diner has chosen! One would think, because each chooses a different number of potatoes than her predecessor, that this shows self-determination and independent judgment. But no! Miles, as elsewhere, doesn’t “push the scene” but by calmly allowing it to play out in real time nudges hidden, indeed unconscious mental processes to the surface.
Joanna Shimkus is every bit as wonderful as Yvette as Glenda Jackson is as Gudrun in Women in Love; she is superb.
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