Russell’s X-rated ‘Devils’ fit for DVD
Let us all doff our caps in memory of the great Ken Russell, who died earlier in the week. His death comes at a poignant time. Following endless squabbles over censorship and a few lifetimes of legal battles, the British Film Institute will, from early next year, be in a position to release on DVD the X-rated version of The Devils, Russell’s 1971 masterpiece.
The Devils, featuring any amount of clerical naughtiness, will (somewhat ironically) also receive a London screening at a festival celebrating the centenary of the British Board of Film Classification. Let’s hope they read out some of the contemporaneous correspondence between Russell and the board’s chief officers. John Trevelyan, then secretary of the organisation, offered a regular stream of helpful hints (less simulated masturbation, please) throughout the editing process.
The Devils stands as the apex in a peculiar career. Unfortunately, Russell was often unfairly ridiculed in later years. He bellowed loudly at Melvyn Bragg – a good pal as it happens – during the South Bank Show Awards. He appeared on Big Brother. He made strange films in his garage featuring scantily clad girls. But Russell does stand out as one of Britain’s most important postwar film-makers.
Russell told Mark Kermode that Fellini once said: “They call me the Italian Ken Russell.” We will choose to believe that. believed, le Carré followers are about to see history repeat itself. “I think they’re whispering now that they might do Smiley’s People,” he said at the Gotham Awards in New York. “Not so much as a sequel, because there’s a book in the middle actually, but we’ve set up the world and we’ll revisit.”
The decision is understandable. Smiley is only a supporting player in The Honourable Schoolboy and his near absence from any quasi-sequel to Tinker Tailor would seem a little odd.
Get behind me, Satan: Vanessa Redgrave in The Devils (1971)