DVD of the Week: The Virgin and the Gypsy (1970)

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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.

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Top: Honor Blackman as Mrs. Fawcett
Bottom: Franco Nero and Joanna Shimkus

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.

9 thoughts on “DVD of the Week: The Virgin and the Gypsy (1970)

  1. Jonathan Lapper says:

    I am unfamiliar with the book and the movie. It’s too bad the transfer is grainy and washed out. You can tell from the screengrabs. I’ve had that experience a few times with movies I’ve longed for on DVD, then I get them from a small company that got a hold of the copyright and the transfer is awful. It happened to me with Day of the Triffids and I couldn’t even watch it it was so bad.

    Still, I’d like to see it. I love Ken Russell’s adaptations in the seventies (someone should set up a Ken Russell blogathon) and have always liked Franco Nero and Honor Blackman (in what little I’ve seen them in). Thanks for, as always, an insight into a lesser known work. It’s one of the reasons your site’s so good!

  2. cinebeats says:

    The Virgin and the Gypsy was oddly enough the first Lawrence book I read when I was a teen so I suppose I have soft spot for it, as well as this film adaptation.

    I think the movie really got overlooked due to the popularity of Russell’s superior Women in Love around the same time, but it’s really a good adaptation, even if it lacks Russell’s flair. I hope you get a chance to see it sometime, but it’s a shame that the DVD is such poor quality. I don’t really have much of a problem watching shabby looking films due to growing up in the VHS age, but in 2007 I expect a bit better from companies releasing movies.

    I don’t want to complain too much though because even though I have problems with Televista, they’re releasing many films that have never been released on DVD before, much less VHS, and that is something to celebrate!

  3. Jonathan Lapper says:

    Yeah, I’ve watched plenty of crappy VHS in my time but the Day of the Triffids I got was panned and scanned and I swear it looked like they set up a cheap video camera in front of an old color tv with the picture tube going. It’s one of the few dvds I tossed after viewing the first few minutes. At the same time there are movies I’ve got on VHS that still haven’t come out on DVD yet so I have to have a VCR and mine broke about a year ago and I haven’t replaced it yet.

  4. Keith says:

    I’m a huge fan of Ken Russell so anyone who was inspired by him has a plus in my book. This film sounds rather interesting. I love a lot of these old English period dramas. I’ll have to check this one out. It’s a shame that it’s a bad quality DVD. Back in the day of videocassettes I didn’t mind it that much, but you expect more in the time of dvds. I’ll still like to give this a watch.

  5. Matthew Kiernan says:

    Sadly, the Televista release isn’t even legit; they’re basically a bunch of bootleggers who release under-the-radar copyrighted films using whatever kind of materials they can get their hands on (even old VHS tapes). It’s shame that they seem to care more about releasing a film like this more than the rights holder, but they’re still not doing anyone a service by releasing such a sub-standard version.

  6. cinebeats says:

    I can’t believe Amazon is selling the DVDs and places like Netflix are renting them if they’re not legit? Maybe the films are just in the public domain? Since I don’t know a thing about the Televista company I hate to make disparaging remarks about them, but the quality of their releases obviously leave a lot to be desired. It is really unfortunate that they’re the only company willing to release some of these hard to get films.

  7. Dave Warner says:

    Maybe I was watching a different DVD because I bought the Televista disc and it looks and sounds very good to me.

  8. cinebeats says:

    A Televista disc that looks and sounds good? I’d love to know where I can find one! I’ve watched numerous Televsita releases this year and frankly, they all looked pretty poor.

  9. Mel Adericks says:

    I watched this one via netflix and I was very pleased with the overall sound and picture. Not too sure if this has been repressed but the netflix version they rent is more than fine.

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