DVD/Blu Ray

The Music Lovers (15) |Home Ents Review

Dir. Ken Russell, UK, 1971, 124 mins, optional subtitles

Cast: Richard Chamberlain, Glenda Jackson, Izabella Telezynska, Christopher Gable

Review by Colin Dibben 

Frenetic, gorgeous, overblown and totally tongue in cheek, Ken Russell’s exuberant exploration of the hetero-married life of gay composer Tchaikovsky contains several energetic performances and never looks less than ravishing. 

Russian composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky needs a patron to finance his work and he needs a wife to conceal the fact that he is gay. He gets two women: as patroness, there is the rich but abstentious aristocrat Madame de Meck (Telezynska); and as a completely unsuitable wife there is the vivacious but unstable Nina (Jackson), who has spent much of her life being prostituted by her own mother. 

There are so many outrageously manic episodes here, filmed with a lovely flowing camera style, that it is hard to see the otherwise pretty standard way that this biopic is told. Another exception would be the long dramatic passages where Tchaikovsky’s own music stands in for dialogue. 

I haven’t seen much Ken Russell, except for the brilliant The Devils and the execrable Gothic, so I was surprised by how beautiful much of The Music Lovers looks, especially the parts filmed around West Wycombe Park. The firework party and the field burning look really great, especially in lustrously coloured high definition. 

Chamberlain is suitably repressed and twitchy as the composer; Jackson is a joy to watch as her character descends into madness: the scenes of crazed physicality in the asylum are jaw-dropping in a way that Andrej Zulawski could only dream of. 

Extras include: 

  • Newly recorded audio commentary by film historian Matthew Melia
  • It Runs in the Family (2024, 20 mins): Ken Russell’s son, Alexander Verney-Elliott, looks back upon his father’s work, and remembers his own appearance in The Music Lovers
  • Charlotte Brontë Enters the Big Brother House (2007, 16 mins): Ken Russell staged, directed and filmed this ‘radical Brontë’ ballet for young people, illustrating Jane Eyre
  • The Guardian Interview: Melvyn Bragg (1988, 76mins): ten years after the inception of The South Bank Show, Melvyn Bragg (who co-wrote the film’s script) discusses his career in television and film with writer Ronald Harwood, at the National Film Theatre in London
  • Galina Ulanova in “Swan Lake” (1940, 4 mins): one of the greatest ballerinas of all time performs a dance from Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece
  • Musical Highlights from USSR Today (1953-56, 10 mins): edited highlights from three editions of the Soviet newsreel, gathering items about Tchaikovsky and Russian musical arts
  • Costume designs: original sketches by Shirley Russell 

The Music Lovers comes to high-definition Blu-ray on 24 June 2024, from the BFI.