I have recently watched the latest BBC Television adaptation of D.H. Lawrence’s The Rainbow and Women in Love.
In some ways I found it very impressive. The pace did not flag, the actors were well chosen and did their work well and the period setting was perfect. Despite this I still found the end result somehow unsatisfactory as if the total was less than the sum of its parts.
All British film adaptations of Lawrence that I have seen have this effect on me. I have seen suggestions by some critics that British film makers and actors are too reserved to cope with the sexuality of Lawrence’s novels. I disagree. British actors since the 1960s and even before have repeatedly shown that they are perfectly at ease with sexuality. Rather I think the problem is that the British tradition of filming is firmly rooted in realism, which is not what Lawrence is about. Lawrence uses his characters far more openly as vehicles to express ideas than is acceptable in a realist novel and the situations he often places them in are not realistic. To film a Lawrence novel in a realistic way is to make the characters appear excessively wordy and even tiresome. It also risks weighing the film down with a mass of period detail, which is both distracting and irrelevant. It also loses the intensity, the humour and the occasionally surreal and even grotesque quality that I for one find in his novels. All of these flaws were apparent in the BBC adaptation.
A more appropriate and far more effective way of filming Lawrence would be to use the cinematic language of much of German and Russian cinema, which is far better adapted to the translation of the works of someone like Lawrence onto a film or television screen than is the American or the British or even the French cinema of today. What Lawrence needs is someone like a Fassbinder or a Tarkovsky and perhaps one day he will find one since the potential is certainly there.