“The Priest of Love” — D.H. Lawrence’s Travel Diary (Unfortunately)
[Guest post from author Shelly King, who has written the novel, THE MOMENT OF EVERYTHING, about a young woman who finds love notes written in the margins of a copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover in a used bookstore. The quest to learn the truth behind these notes turns her life, and the lives of those around her, completely upside down. THE MOMENT OF EVERYTHING will be in bookstores from Grand Central Publishing (Hachette) on September 2, 2014. For more about Shelly and her debut novel, visit: www.shellyking.com.]
It’s hard to make an interesting movie about a writer. The process of writing is quiet and boring to watch. It’s interior and that often doesn’t make a good movie. But what do you do if you really want to make a movie about a writer, especially a writer whose work screams to be visual like D.H. Lawrence? Well, my suggestion would definitely not be to make it a travel diary which is basically what The Priest of Love is.
What made me interested in a 1981 movie I’d never heard of? Well, I’m fascinated by D.H. Lawrence’s work. Lady Chatterley’s Lover plays a key part in my own novel, The Moment of Everything. I like how Lawrence pushed boundaries, not only by the four-letter words he uses but by questioning the morality of the industrial age. He celebrates the tenderness between two people (the first title for the novel was Tenderness) while showing the expression of that tenderness with a frankness no one had read before. It’s a novel I didn’t like at first, but have grown to love for its heart. So when I found out there was a movie about the years Lawrence spent writing Lady Chatterley’s Lover–his last novel–starring Ian McKellen, I was so there.
Unfortunately, “The Priest of Love” was a disappointment. It starts with Lawrence and his new wife Frieda in Cornwall at the beginning of WWI. They are expelled because Frieda is German. So they leave England and accept the patronage of a wealthy, eccentric woman in Taos, New Mexico. Lawrence and Frieda fight. They go on to Mexico and fight some more. Then it’s back to England, then to Italy and France, fighting along the way, all while John Gielgud is back in England banning and burning Lawrence’s books.
It’s hard to say what this movie is really about. It only got interesting in the final 30 minutes when Lady Chatterley’s Lover was published and we got to see the reaction and how Lawrence reacted to the reaction. But it’s all a very shallow telling of a very fascinating story of how that book came to be.
The movie is trying very hard to show the complex relationship between Lawrence and Frieda, and that’s a noble goal. They were complex people (she left her husband and three children for him), but the movie barely scratches the surface. Ian McKellen is wonderful as Lawrence and could have been extraordinary with a better script. In the end, the film is little more than a travel diary.
D.H. Lawrence was an astonishing and revolutionary writer. It would have been amazing if this film about him had been so as well.