- Movie Rating -

Priest of Love (1981)

| October 9, 1981

I hear over and over again that sometimes the best advice when writing about a legendary person is to simply ‘print the legend’.  Let’s face it, nobody wants to hear stories about what George Washington had for breakfast, but we’re more curious about the man who occupied the battlefield and later the White House.  The same could be said for D.H. Lawrence whose real life probably wasn’t nearly as interesting as your average biography would have you believe.  Lawrence wrote in just about every form imaginable from plays to poems to essays to novels to short stories to travel books and even letters; and he wrote on a variety of subjects like politics, the industrial revolution, female sexuality and autobiographies detailing his own unhappy childhood.

Needless to say, it was his radical views and sexual subject matter that got him into trouble.  His works were often censored and it frustrated the writer in ways that often got him into trouble.  Yet, even with his radical views, it is sexual content that we remember.  “Lady Chatterley’s Love” was his best-known work, so scandalous that it was banned in the United States until the early 60s.  Yet, today it finds its way onto college reading lists.

Despite his famed self-obsession, I am fascinating by the world that went on inside Lawrence’s head.  The circus of his mind must have been a scary, scandalous and yet wonderous place and he would spend his life trying to get it all down on paper.  And yet, I am disappointed that the movie Priest of Love can’t seem to match the mental fortitude that existed in his work.  The movie is a biography, by and large, of Lawrence (played in a good performance by Ian McKellan) as he visited America and was hounded by journalists whose forward intention was to portray him as a pornographer, a man who was set to overturn the establishments of morality so firmly in place at the start of the 20th century.

The movie takes place late in his life after his novel “The Rainbow” has been so condemned for its frank sexuality that it was seized by the police and publicly burned on the grounds that it was indecent.  Bitter, heartbroken and resentful, Lawrence and his wife Frieda (Janet Suzman) travel to America where he has contracted tuberculosis and eventually wrote “Lady Chatterley’s Lover”, but I never got a sense of the man as a man.  I sensed that the screenwriters here were too easily leaning on the legend that Lawrence was as a writer then on who he was as a human being.

D.H. Lawrence packed more life and energy into his brief 44 years that probably any two people that you can name, but why is the movie so afraid of him?  I’m not asking for a tabloid account, but I would like to understand what made him tick.  McKellan gives a good performance but I always felt as if I were watching Lawrence in a goldfish bowl – confined and trapped in the role that history would prefer to portray.  Where are his political views?  Where are his views on sex and immorality?  Where are the pieces of his unhappy childhood that created the man who would become the legend?  This movie seems afraid of D.H. Lawrence, afraid of getting too close and breaking the historical façade.  This is a movie that it more interested in furniture than in its subject.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1981) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized