In 1969, the talented British director Ken Russell impressed critics and audiences with his excellent film adaptation of D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love. The film would go on to win many awards and inspire greater interest in D.H. Lawrence. It would also inspire other directors to try their hand at adapting Lawrence’s work.
One of those directors was the 32-year-old Christopher Miles, a talented, but often unappreciated British filmmaker and sibling of the great actress Sarah Miles. Before making The Virgin and the Gypsy (1970), Christopher Miles had only made a few films, including the little-seen mod musical Up Jumped a Swagman (1965). The Virgin and the Gypsy was Miles’ first attempt at a literary adaptation and serious drama as far as I know, and he does a fine job of bringing what many consider to be one of D.H. Lawrence’s lesser novels to the screen.
The story revolves around a young British woman named Yvette, who has returned home with her sister after years of education abroad. Both girls are unhappy with their strict and conventional home life and long to escape it. After coming across a handsome Gypsy during a casual outing, Yvette becomes obsessed with him. The Gypsy seems to set fire to her imagination and awaken her repressed passions.
The film is beautifully photographed and features some good performances from its cast including the talented Italian actor Franco Nero as the mysterious Gypsy and actress Joanna Shimkus as the virginal Yvette. The lovely Honor Blackman also appears in an interesting role as the unconventional and very modern Mrs. Fawcett, who helps rescue Yvette from her stifling family in the films final moments. Franco and Shimkus create an interesting chemistry on screen which makes their erotic scenes together very believable. The film also manages to maintain its romantic and melancholy atmosphere throughout its 95 min. running time, which is partly due to composer Patrick Gowers’ haunting score.
The Virgin and the Gypsy has a lot going for it if you enjoy British literary adaptations, but it’s nowhere near as good, transgressive or engaging as Ken Russell’s brilliant Women in Love. Filmmaker Christopher Miles clearly doesn’t possess Russell’s imagination or visual flair, but I think The Virgin and the Gypsy is still an effective film that is often overlooked. The movie has much more in common with Merchant & Ivory’s early productions such as The Europeans (1979) and The Bostonians (1984), then with any of Russell’s movies and it should appeal to anyone who enjoys good period dramas.
After making The Virgin and the Gypsy, Christopher Miles would go on to adapt Jean Genet’s play Les Bonnes for the screen in what is his best and most fascinating film, The Maids (1974). He would also direct an interesting biopic based on the life of D.H. Lawrence called Priest of Love (1981). Both films are well worth watching if you’re interested in seeing more of the director’s work. Unfortunately Priest of Love is still in need of a DVD release.
The attractive actress Joanna Shimkus shows that she had real talent here so it’s a shame that she retired from acting only a year later. She’s mostly known now as the wife of the Oscar winning American actor Sidney Poitier whom she married in 1976.
The Virgin and the Gypsy was released for the first time on Region-1 DVD in the US this week from Televista. As I’ve mentioned before, Televista has been releasing a steady stream of worthwhile films all year and many of them are first time DVD releases, but the quality is often rather poor. The Virgin and the Gypsy is a beautiful movie that really deserves a better DVD release that showcases the lush look of the film’s impressive cinematography. Unfortunately this new Televista presentation contains a gritty and washed out print of the film. The DVD does feature a Slide Gallery with still shots, but that’s the only notable extra. The Virgin and the Gypsy is currently on sale at Amazon and should be available for rent from Netflix and Greencine.