Sons and Lovers (2003)

“I don’t think one person could be everything to me.”

This made-for-British television adaptation of the D.H. Lawrence novel examines the relationship between a mother and son–Gertrude and Paul Morel. When the film begins young Gertrude Coppard (Sarah Lancashire) is visiting her aunt when she meets coal miner Walter Morel (Hugo Speer). They marry, and it turns out to be an unfortunate match. Plagued by poverty, their relationship is also blighted by Walter’s drinking, and the fact that Walter’s sour mother lives next door in the row of bleak little houses, doesn’t help matters much. Gertrude discovers quickly that she’ll get no help from her mother-in-law when it comes to trying to reform Walter’s drinking. In fact, there’s a bond between mother and son that Gertrude cannot penetrate.

Over time, Gertrude gives birth to three children–a daughter and two sons. She’s closest to her sons William (James Murray) and Paul (Rupert Evans), and as her relationship with her husband disintegrates, Gertrude increasingly turns to her sons for companionship. This is particularly true of her relationship with Paul.

Visually, this is a beautiful film with excellent contrasts between the grimy mining town and the green of the surrounding countryside. The settings certainly add to the feelings of hopeless, claustrophobic poverty versus the exhilarating freedom found in nature. The relationship between Walter and Gertrude is depicted quite well. There are moments when it almost seems possible that the aging Walter will heal the breach with his wife, but Gertrude’s inflexible remoteness towards her husband presents a formidable barrier. The film does an excellent job of showing how the destruction of the family structure leads to a dependency of sorts between mother and son–a dependency that is at once impenetrable and at times unhealthy.

On the down side, while Sarah Lancashire is well cast and delivers an excellent performance, the characterization of Paul Morel seems weak in comparison. The whole starving artist thing just doesn’t ring true, and the film fails to adequately emphasize quite how Paul’s relationship with his mother affects his ability to have relationships with other women. In addition, the ending falls flat. In common with other D.H. Lawrence books, Sons and Lovers delves into the subject of sexuality, so the film includes nudity and sexual intercourse. While this is not the definitive version of the novel, D.H Lawrence fans and/or fans of British television will appreciate the attempt to translate this largely autobiographical novel to the screen.

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