This exquisite adaptation of D.H. Lawrence's novel is famed cinematographer Jack Cardiff's most accomplished film as a director; in fact, he was nominated and indeed won several major Best Direction awards (including the Golden Globe). Sadly, none of his other directorial efforts were anywhere near as rewarding although I'd still like to watch at least 2 of them - the epic THE LONG SHIPS (1963) and the horror film THE MUTATIONS (1974; a SE DVD of which has been released under the title THE FREAKMAKER).
Amazingly, this was a Hollywood production (made by 20th Century Fox) and, as such, leading man Dean Stockwell (who was probably never better) was imposed on Cardiff by producer Jerry Wald - though he seems to have been pleased with his performance. The acting of the Oscar-nominated Trevor Howard (as Stockwell's boorish and drunkard coal-miner father) and Mary Ure (as the married but separated young suffragette with whom Stockwell has an affair), as well as Wendy Hiller (as his strong but possessive mother), is irreproachable. The supporting cast includes Ernest Thesiger (in one of his last films) and Donald Pleasence, with both unfortunately having limited screen-time.
Freddie Francis' luminous black-and-white cinematography earned the film its only Oscar; interestingly, Francis also followed in Cardiff's footsteps and became a film director himself (with similarly erratic results, ironically enough). Mario Nascimbene's lovely music score and the film's vivid recreation of an era (in authentic locations, no less) add immeasurably to its lasting impression.
The coal-mine setting recalls earlier films like Carol Reed's THE STARS LOOK DOWN (1939) and John Ford's HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY (1941), with which it can be favorably compared. Still, for all its quaint Englishness and the inherent sentimentality of its narrative, the film is a remarkably adult and frank depiction of sexual and artistic awakening vis-à-vis repressed Edwardian society and, together with Ken Russell's equally celebrated adaptation of WOMEN IN LOVE (1969), remains undoubtedly the finest screen rendition of D. H. Lawrence's work.
It's a shame, therefore, that this is as yet unavailable on R1 DVD but the R2 edition I own is a more than adequate substitute, with a very nice-looking print of the main feature, surprisingly strong audio and, apart from the basic supplements of the original theatrical trailer and a stills gallery, features a wonderful interview with Cardiff about the making of SONS AND LOVERS (interspersed with relevant clips from the film itself) which clocks in at around half-an-hour.
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