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Savage Messiah (1972)

Biographical film of the life of French sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska.



(screenplay), (book)
Nominated for 1 BAFTA Film Award. See more awards »


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Lindsay Kemp ...
Angus Corky
M. Gaudier
Lionel Shaw
Aubrey Richards ...
Museum Attendant
Ben Aris ...
Thomas Buff
Eleanor Fazan ...
Mdme. Gaudier
Mr. Saltzman
Imogen Claire ...
Mavis Coldstream
Maggy Maxwell ...
Susanna East ...


Biographical film of the life of French sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


All art is sex! See more »


Biography | Drama


R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





Release Date:

September 1972 (UK)  »

Also Known As:

Barbár messiás  »

Filming Locations:


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Technical Specs


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Aspect Ratio:

1.78 : 1
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Did You Know?


In order to save money, copies of uncopyrighted Soviet recordings of Claude Debussy and Alexander Scriabin were made. See more »


Sophie, a native speaker of Polish, is shown mispronouncing the Polish word rysowac' 'to draw': she says REE-so-vak although the correct Polish pronunciation is (approximately) rih-SOH-vats' (with the final -ts' sound pronounced palatalized, almost like -tch). See more »


Sophie Brzeska: My book is about sleep; that thick oily substance. Under the surface you float; half dreaming, half waking. Hidden, you hope, yet the world comes though. You cannot imagine the ways I've evolved to abolish myself there... under the surface. Half sleeping. Half waking. Leaving your worries and your clothes asleep. But the rent never sleeps and time never sleeps.
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Referenced in Celebrity Naked Ambition (2011) See more »


Symphony No.1
Music by Vano Muradeli
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User Reviews

Underrated and surprisingly understated biographical drama from the always iconoclastic Russell
29 October 2010 | by See all my reviews

Art, expression, age, repression, sex, revolution and death... just some of the themes central to Ken Russell's typically exuberant biographical film, Savage Messiah (1972). At its most basic, the film looks at the troubled and often confusing relationship between French sculptor Henri Gaudier and struggling writer Sophie Brzeska. However, director Russell - ever the iconoclast - uses the film's internal subject matter as a platform to attack the idea of artistic criticism. With this in mind, the film goes beyond the more identifiable elements of biographical fiction to become something of a satire, as Russell eventually branches out and takes further swipes at film producers, financiers and the viewing public, who - in Russell's view - have destroyed the notion of 'art', both in its own right, and in the purely cinematic sense of personal expression.

As the film unfolds it becomes clear that Russell is using Gaudier as something of an alter-ego; a stroke of characterisation that I'm sure is pure egocentric fabrication, as we see Gaudier become a laughing, wailing, scamp; obsessed with phallic symbolism and the female form and completely opposed to authority (sound familiar?). In Brzeska, his desire to find someone like-minded is fulfilled, whilst his appetite for lust and high-society remains just out of reach. The film is clever enough to subvert the usual love affair clichés, by depicting the couple's relationship through various alternative incarnations; mother and son, sister and brother, friend and foe, etc. As the film moves closer and closer to its final act, Russell offers us a touching and subtle depiction of loss, loyalty and friendship that ties all of these previous themes together exceedingly well.

Here the usually bombastic director elicits a number of wonderful performances from his cast, allowing them to feel their way through the portrayal of these complex and not always likable characters, as opposed to simply acting it out. Amongst the stars, Scott Anthony impresses as the wildly enthusiastic genius Gaudier, whilst dance choreographer Lindsey Kemp plays the pitiful, snivelling promoter Angus Corky. However, it is Dorothy Tutin as the tortured Brzeska who really stands out; delivering a beautiful performance that registers long after the film has finished. Russell's creative restraint is also evident in the way the film is put together. Set design is again by Derek Jarman, who creative the city of Loudon in Russell's earlier masterpiece The Devils (1971). Whereas that film relied heavily on theatricality, pop art expressionism and stylisation, Savage Messiah instead creates a more low-key reality that is no less iconic or impressive.

The realisation of the film is in the cobbled streets, the dingy basements, the gutters overflowing with rancid, rotting fruit and vegetables, the constant pouring rain, the art and the artist, and the juxtaposition of the polite, stately bourgeoisie with the common artiste they so adore! Even the cinematography and lighting manages to forgo the usually vibrant, cartoon-like buffoonery of some of Russell's more outré endeavours, using natural light - including candles, bonfires and actual sunlight - and unobtrusive compositions reminding us of what a great talent Russell was before the likes of Tommy (1975) and Lisztomania (1975) took him beyond the boundaries of taste. The film has a number of amazing sequences, such as the first trip to the art gallery, Gaudier's all-night sculpting session, the trip to the rockery, the carnival-like nightclub and, of course, on a more superficial level, the young Helen Mirren posing nude.

Unfortunately, the current cinematic climate tells us that we should ignore the films of the past, and instead look forward to vapid remakes with that dry, MTV mentality. A sad fact, since despite a couple of minor flaws, Savage Messiah is a true original; one of Russell's many personal and groundbreaking explorations of artistic expression, and one of those films that demonstrates his true talent and stature of one of British cinema's true originals.

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