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Elgar: Fantasy of a Composer on a Bicycle (2002)

Ken Russell revisits the life of Elgar, with musical background provided by the composer's works.

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Ken Russell revisits the life of Elgar, with musical background provided by the composer's works.

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A pure joy for lovers of unadulterated awfulness
18 September 2004 | by (Oxford,UK) – See all my reviews

If you haven't seen this film, sorry but you probably never will. It was commissioned for the South Bank Show, and I wouldn't be surprised if ITV have "accidentally" erased the tapes soon after the broadcast. I have never seen a presenter looking so embarrassed as Melvyn Bragg doing the introduction. Correct me if I am wrong, but I think Melvyn may have had a part in commissioning the original Russell/Elgar film that is still fondly remembered – the first in an ever descending spiral of self-indulgent awfulness of composer biography films that Russell has stuck to ever since (the 1992 film about Bax is a good example). To celebrate the 40th anniversery of this magnum opus the SBS gave Russell carte blanche to self-indulge. Everyone must have known it was going to be a disaster, and those of us who tuned in were not disappointed. It had a cosy, home-made feel, like a bad family video. A bloke with a stuck on Elgar mustache and no acting ability rode up and down Malvern hills on a bike (quite easy to do a period film if all you do is shots of countryside - even so there are glimpses of the Worcester bypass in the background). The various women in Elgar's life (or rather Ken's, as most seem to be related to him) made fleeting appearances, but fortunately none was given many lines to deliver, as they might have found this difficult apparently never having acted before. Elgar's secret beloved spent rather too much of the film dancing around in gauzy material nearly covering her chest, which kept slipping so that she needed to pull it back up. Worst of all were the random interludes of small girls dancing round the woods as fairies (personally I wasn't aware of Elgar's fairy fetish but maybe Ken knows better?). Anyway the film was another unique contribution by the master. Ken Russell, we salute you.


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