Ken Russell the Enfant Terrible

Ken Russell

Controversial and flamboyant film-director Ken Russell had a very nautical start to his working life. Russell, who was born in Southampton (on the South coast of England), served in the Merchant Navy and Royal Air Force for a while. His career choices after that included ballet dancing, acting and photography.

Russell acquired quite a reputation as an imaginative fashion photographer and, in his spare time, also started to make black and white silent films. He took one of these films, Amelia and the Angel (1957), to the BBC who were impressed enough to offer him work.

He worked on several documentaries, before making his feature film debut with the 1963 comedy French Dressing, which was followed by Billion Dollar Brain.

He received acclaim for his TV arts biographies. These included Isadora Duncan, The Biggest Dancer in the World (1966), Song of Summer (1968) on Delius and The Dance of the Seven Veils on Richard Strauss.

Ken Russell and Ringo Starr

Russell and Ringo Starr on the set of Lisztomania (1975).

His 1969 film, the lusty and sensual adaptation of D.H. Lawrence’s novel Women In Love, which starred Oliver Reed and Glenda Jackson, received a best director nomination.

Films to follow included The Music Lovers (1970), a biography of Tchaikovsky, The Devils (1971), about an outbreak of sexual hysteria in a 17th century monastry, The Boyfriend and Savage Messiah (1972). Other films by the director include Altered States (1980), Crimes of Passion (1984), Gothic (1986) and 1991’s Whore.

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