Rus­sell’s X-rated ‘Devils’ fit for DVD

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - News -

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)

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