Friday, 20 April 2012


‘Elgar’ is one of the most restrained and respectful films Ken Russell ever made. That doesn’t sound very exciting, but it makes for beautiful television and, if you want to know about Edward Elgar and have an hour to spare, it’s a one stop shop, all poetically framed in crisp, classic black and white.

A young Elgar tries to drag his ass into action

This is a Ken Russell film after all...
The Lad Himself.

Elgar as Widower.

One man and his dog 
Room with a view.

Made for the BBC ‘Monitor’ programme, it was a labour of love for Ken, who admired Elgar tremendously, and wanted to ‘remind’ people of his life and music (Elgar was generally considered a bit old hat at this point). The film radiates with admiration, and brilliantly combines new and archive footage, photographs, lyrical imagery and Elgar’s stirring music to create an hour of ‘pure’ TV which only requires a very succinct commentary (also written by Mr. Russell). Being Ken Russell, of course, the programme was even controversial in a very small way, by being the first ‘Monitor’ programme to actually dramatise a life rather than just document it, although, as a concession to Huw Weldon, the actors portraying Elgar and his associates don’t have any lines, although with Ken on his very best form, they don't actually need them).

It’s wonderfully made (and was hugely popular) and gives an entirely new perspective to Elgar the man, presenting him as not just the distinguished old duffer and musical Knight of living memory, but as a solitary child and young struggling artist – a fully rounded portrait of the life of a dedicated and uncompromising artist. Elgar's later years, his loneliness and long losing battle to stay creative and relevant, are subtly and sensitively rendered and his last hours, spent listening to his own music while looking out of a window with a view of Hereford Cathedral and the Malvern Hills beyond, is a poignant image which I now recall every time I hear Elgar's name.

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