A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Sons and Lovers (1960)

A well-done adaptation of D. H, Lawrence’s pre-WW1 classic about the coming-of-age of a wanna-be artist from a coal-mining town, encouraged by his possessive mother and frustrated by his alcoholic coal-mining father. Dean Stockwell gives a convincing performance of Paul Morel, the protagonist, and his mixed emotions about the women in his life; the ‘spiritual’ Miriam (Heather Sears), the passionate suffragette Miriam (Mary Ure), and his manipulative mother (Wendy Hiller).

The three women characters are likewise believably portrayed, setting up the conflicts in Paul’s life, which, initially, have more to do with them than him. (Spoiler:) But the finale is realistic with Paul freeing himself from all three as he sets off to make his way in the world away from Nottinghamshire. The handling of love and sex gets at the central truths in the relationships of men and women and so the movie still stands up well today. The cinematography by Freddie Francis (who later went on to work with the great David Lean on his epic blockbusters) deservedly won an Academy award; his work is some of the best B & W photography from that time period. Jack Cardiff’s direction of the Lambert-Clarke script is delightfully seamless and thought-provoking. A big thumbs-up for this one.

Part of watching a good film is the vicarious experience of identifying with its characters, plot, conflicts, and themes. This movie recalled to me both my late parents: a hard-working, suffering mother who meant well and did whatever she maximally could to see that I would be successful in adult life, and my father who was an alcoholic for most of his early adult life up to 50. He became ‘someone else’ when he went on a bender, not unlike people today who change dramatically from serious drug abuse. My mother was similar to Paul’s mother–emotionally manipulative and possessive, judging each girlfriend according to herself and her own narrow specific values.

Such were both parents, that it was necessary for me to leave my home and city, to go on my own journey west from Winnipeg to the then-rising city of Edmonton. iI was a journey in which I followed my bliss and love, eventually marrying and launching into a career, becoming a master teacher, musician, and writer in the process. About as cliché as it gets, but the conventional did get balanced with love and my involvement in the arts. I wanted ‘more’ from Life (not necessarily money) and got it.

Of the women characters, I can only add that the representations in the film and book are very accurate for many of the girls and women I have met along the way, though often they have been a blend of both main aspects, and always very individual people rather than the simplified, polarized types presented in the film.

Further/ I think one of the key things to mention about the father and mother is that they were realistic; despite their negative qualities, the script, acting, and direction show them as having the best possible reasons for behaving as they did. They acted in the only ways they knew how, with the father being more comfortable with Paul’s attempts at freedom while the mother, in turn, supported him in his artwork.

Overall, the book and movie are right. One has to be responsible for one’s own life, ultimately, and it may be necessary to ‘move’ in order to follow one’s own necessary, individual process. Those who interact with us will have their reasons and various limits and limitations, always. No one is perfect, but sometimes people will end up offering their best in any case. Regardless of outcome, it is best to explore and to try out possibilities and opportunities in order to arrive at whatever pleasure, happiness, and information about oneself, others, and the world. It is this process view which is the strength of Lawrence’s novel and this movie, too.

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