Sons and Lovers, 1960. 8/10

Adaptation of D.H. Lawrence’s 1913 novel of a coal mining family with an artistic son. Trevor Howard plays Walter Morel, Wendy Hiller his wife, and Dean Stockwell and William Lucy their sons Paul and William. This is mostly Paul’s story, with Paul’s love interests Clara Dawes (Mary Ure) and Miriam (Heather Sears).

Miriam gets close to Paul, but her mom isn’t too keen on the matchup; meanwhile, to please his mom, he gets a job nearby (instead of going to art school), and meets Clara. Problem is, she’s married (to Conrad Phillips as Baxter). With that sketch of the plot, let’s have a look at how it plays out.

Paul has done a portrait of mom, too flattering she thinks. He’s off to see Miriam. Mom acts as though Paul needs to be protected or watched “I’m only good enough to wait on you.” Dad’s even worse, As he deliberately destroys the picture. Apparently, Paul working an office (a sissy job?) isn’t sitting right with pops.

Paul almost steps on a piglet while sneaking up on Miriam. She’s so girl-next-door, in a bucolic farm so quaint, with a mill on the river. Well, her mom’s in the way, even though she’s not always physically there.

Suddenly, a mine explosion. Corpses are being taken out, with Paul and his mom watching: uncle’s dead. William is back from London for the funeral. “You think you’re so fine!” He lectures both sons. Getting back on the train, William tells mom that he’s engaged. Of course, she’s got nothing nice to say.

Strangely, Paul takes mom to Nottingham; he’s got an ulterior motive as he has a drawing on display at an art gallery, plus they bump into Miriam. At least mom like his drawing. She “wants him to fall in love with the right girl. A strong one.” Miriam responds with some sass, “stronger than you?”

Anyway, back at home, mom is upset that Paul had dinner with Miriam. Jeez, is he two years old? Other people can cook too, y’know. Dad’s running away, not a bad move. A gentleman comes calling, Mr. Hadlock; an art dealer. He proposes that Paul go to a London art school, as a patron, he’ll stake him. Hadlock isn’t very tactful with pops, though.

Anyway, Paul zips off to tell Miriam. An odd scene, as she grabs her little brother saying “show me you love me!” Anyway, another interesting scene, this more traditionally romantic, in that Paul swings her very high, literally, “I’m going to the top of the world!” They start making out…

But then, she starts crying at this sudden jump of intimacy, he says “I can’t always be so spiritual with you.” And “Being afraid isn’t pure.. it’s a sort of dirtiness.” This is kind of preachy D.H. Lawrence stuff. “We belong to each other, don’t we?” She agrees, but also admits that she’s afraid. Her mom thinks life and even love is about suffering. Great, thank God they kept some of their Puritans close at hand.

Her subsequent prayer is a bit ambiguous, as she wants spiritual as well as sensual love. But the next treat is a Morel domestic scene. The drunk dad comes home blathering, no respect, no love, not even nothing. Just a lot of the drudgery of loathing.

Now pops locks mom out; Paul breaks in, then pops stomps out. Apparently, no one likes the decor or something. Anyway moms relates how pops was once romantic. It’s her first plain conversation, without attitude. As importantly, Paul says the hell with London, he’s sticking around, for her.

Then, in strange coincidence, dad actually wises up, and acts decent in the morning. Anyway, Paul reports for work in Nottingham. He’s to meet Clara, that is, Mrs. Dawes. Also he meets Pappleworth (Donald Pleasance) who introduces him around. Ure is that same angelic presence, full of quiet strength and determination, straight out of Look Back In Anger.

Meanwhile “there’s a sort of hush tonight” as Paul comes back to look in on Miriam. She declares her love for him; it’s implicit that they’ve just had sex. “To you it was a sacrifice… because that’s the way you’re made.” Unfortunately, I suppose he’s right.

On the home front, it’s Christmas time, and everyone’s happy. Even with Louisa (Rosalie Ashley) and William visiting. Mom likes her “some.” What a Renaissance of feeling! Louisa seems kind of shallow; but mom tells Paul, in so many words, that she’s not so dangerous as Miriam’s type. Probably because she senses that Miriam, though stifled with the same repressive mores as most people here, is capable of genuine love.

William tells his brother “even if I lost Louisa tomorrow, she’d still have changed my life.” This comes in response to Paul beginning a bit of a lecture on passion, which he feels is absent from Louisa and William’s relationship. It’s hypocritical to say the least; and, as we next see, he pretty much lectures himself away from a great girl.

Now, out and around the frozen pond with Miriam, he just breaks it off with her. “I could hate you for making me love you” She’s right. She’s also right that his mom has ruined it for them. He sets a barrier that he thinks is insurmountable–having sex with her–and, her having consented, he sets another, more impervious barrier, that she can’t possibly have enjoyed sex. In effect, she’s not good enough for him because she’s too good to him.

Paul looks in on a suffragette meeting, for the chance to draw Clara; and draw her out. She’s says she believes in free love. They go walking; she tells him she’s been separated from her husband for two years. Completely different than Miriam, Clara nonetheless knows about his rejection of Miriam, comparing his nonchalant desire to posess some wildflowers with his casual treatment of the younger girl.

He and Clara actually date. He walks her home; that’s just the beginning: she offers to have him spend the night, with mom’s approval. Her mom is remarkably welcoming. We’re getting cozy… she’s got that beguiling look in her eye. Great sexual tension, as she’s in the next bedroom with mom; he’s actually using her room.

He goes downstairs where she’s warming herself by the fire. They embrace…and don’t stop. In the morning, though, he’s threatened by her husband, who’s uncomfortably also a coworker. He admits he’s overmatched. She wants to go away with him for a few days. Back home there’s the usual double-speak with his mom about ‘the right woman.’

Things get lively, as mom has to let on to pops that the happy couple has gone off on holiday together. Actually a very bad deal all the way around, as the old man was accosted by Clara’s husband in a pub. Dad’s very right when he tells her “you who have put him in chains your whole life.”

At the seashore, Paul and Clara are living it up. Enough so that they talk relationship shop: she, regarding Miriam “so you put a limit on your claims of love?” For her part, she says she doesn’t want to get divorced. But she observes, after what we presume is a night of love-making “Is it me you want, or just ‘it’?” I think it, only it.

There’s a beautiful metaphor, in his description of their sex as “I just go like a leaf down the wind.” Getting off the train, Baxter lies in wait: they fight, and it’s a hell of a fight. Baxter wins, but both are hurt. Things aren’t so great at home for Paul, either; mom is in bad straights (a heart attack). Meanwhile, Clara goes off to Baxter, who, mysteriosly, has been “hurt.” More importantly, he sees that Clara is really going back to her husband.

Who is it that he’s painting? But mom dies before she can see it: daffodils, as she said she wanted to live to see. Dad says Paul should go to London “and not let things slide.” All Paul wants is “life to be full.” Meaning what? He even disdains love. But, who’s this running through the daffodils–Miriam.

Her always spot-on advice: “Be happy just to live.” She’s also planning to go to London… Miriam wants to marry him. He’s so stubborn “you want to put me in your pocket, and I’ll die there, smothered.” What’s his deal? Maybe he just loves himself too much. Sort of gothic-like, he’s afraid he’ll see his mom in her. One last kiss, then Miriam, crestfallen, turns away. We’re done with his lot.

The kind and degree of sensual and sexual denial in Sons and Lovers–a major Lawrence theme– is so well-represented that it’s palpable, ever-present, and simply overwhelming. One can think that it’s a manifestation of an isolated place more than a century ago; at the same time, this was a movie motif well into the 1960s and beyond in Peyton Place/A Summer Place garb.

But the other side of that flipping abstract coin is the too frequent and too long speeches, especially from Paul (not speeches exactly, but who would pontificate like this and not utterly bore the room?), that give this a forced, too obviously literary tone.

It’s hard to fault the performances here, particularly Ure’s and Sears’. Stockwell seems just a bit obtuse, disengaged; this is probably due to his character (I haven’t yet read the book). Still, Paul doesn’t seem terribly interested in anything, or anyone, with the exception of his mom. I come away not liking him very much. The atmosphere and settings are just right, and the supporting cast nails down the local color.

Farmermouse fastened on that early Renault of Hadlock’s, he says eight broken teacups for Sons and Lovers. 8/10.

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