Sons & Lovers


by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

The most interesting thing about the novel Sons and Lovers, an early work by D.H. Lawrence, is that it is nearly an autobiography. Lawrence's own parents were severely mismatched. His father was a barely literate miner and his mother was a schoolteacher who resented the hand life had dealt her, which was to raise children in a grim, impoverished, uncultured mining community while her husband spent every day in the pits and every night in the pubs. Lacking any meaningful communication with her husband, she poured all of her dreams into her children, and seemed to form a quasi-sexual relationship with her sons.

David (D.H.) turned out as he did because of his mother's solicitous if overprotective attentions. The good  news is that he eventually escaped the humble mining town of Eastwood and became one of the most famous authors of the 20th century. That was certainly no small achievement. The bad news is that he was a mama's boy, which got him ridiculed by men and caused him to fail in his early attempts to relate to women, since he could never escape the oppressive influence of his mother.  Fortunately, he possessed the intellect and objectivity necessary to realize the problematic nature of his relationship with his mother, and he was able to turn it into literature, capturing the best and worst elements of her influence with remarkable candor in Sons and Lovers.

The second most interesting thing about the book is that you've never actually read it unless you are truly a dedicated scholar. Even if you think you have read it, you probably have not. I was completely surprised this morning to find myself in this group. As I was researching this article today, I discovered for the first time that the uncensored work was never really seen until 1994, which meant I had not read it since I read the novel during my college days in the 1960s. Oh, there was a version of it out there for me to read, but not the version Lawrence wrote. E-notes reports: "Edward Garnett, a reader for Duckworth, Lawrence’s publisher, cut about 10 percent of the material from Lawrence’s draft. Garnett tightened the focus on Paul by deleting passages about his brother, William, and toning down the sexual content. In 1994, Cambridge University Press published a new edition with all of the cuts restored, including Lawrence’s idiosyncratic punctuation." Oh, well. I have read it now, since it is available online in its entirety, or available in summarized form.

To tell you the truth, I don't think I was really missing much.

If you want all the details of the plot, you can pick up a complete, concise summary from Wikipedia. The short version is this: Paul (the surrogate for Lawrence himself) is torn between the chaste, religious, and simple country woman who loves him and a modern, freethinking married suffragette who wants him for extramarital hanky-panky. Ultimately he is unable to relate very well to either woman because of his Oedipal relationship with his own mother, and mum's constant meddling in his romantic affairs.

There had previously been a relatively chaste film version of the novel made in 1960 with an American (Dean Stockwell) in the lead. It was directed by the famous cinematographer Jack Cardiff, who had a brief directing career in the 1960s and 70s before returning to cinematography full time. Cardiff did a good enough job in the director's chair that his version of Sons and Lovers won him an Oscar nomination as the best director that year. and his film was nominated for seven Oscars in all, including best picture, and won for its impressive cinematography.

The BBC turned Sons and Lovers into a mini-series in the 1980s, and that version was seen in the United States on Masterpiece Theater. (Although not by me. I don't even remember that there was such a thing.)

So what does this new version have to offer, other than the hip, swingin' new ampersand in the title? ITV1 conceived of their 2003 version as an opportunity to interpret the work for the first time without censorship, presenting the sexual scenes as explicitly as Lawrence might have imagined them, and working for the first time with the full text from the uncensored 1994 release of the novel. (See the nudity report to the right.) The network threw a great deal of money into this production ($8 million), since they had reasons to believe in the project's appeal. First, there was the element of name recognition. "Sons and Lovers" is one of the most widely recognized book titles in history. It was the most popular of Lawrence's works during his own lifetime, and The Modern Library list rated it among the ten best novels of the century. Second, there was the story's inherent suitability for British television, since it combines period costumes, solemn dialogue, an established and high-falutin' literary provenance, and explicit sex - all in all, the perfect combination to provide housewives with guilt-free titillation.

The scriptwriter did a lot of things right. First, he did a good job of working around Lawrence's stiff, windy dialogue. He didn't make it contemporary because he wasn't doing an episode of Xena, but was working with a recognized masterpiece that had to retain its feel. So he kept the words, but reduced their quantity, either making the exchanges terser and more natural or eliminating dialogue altogether in favor of pauses and glances whenever possible.

The scenarist also did a smart job of condensation. In adapting the novel to the screen, he eliminated Paul's younger brother altogether, a solid decision because the younger brother's subplots really add nothing to the story and serve only to distract us from the four central characters. (Paul, his two lovers, and his mother.) Paul's laconic miner father has not been eliminated, but has been given a greatly diminished role He is still present throughout the story, but has been relegated to the periphery and largely reduced to an abstraction. While Trevor Howard had breathed life into that character in the 1960 movie, and received an Oscar nomination for his role, the actor's only real job in the new version is to stare ominously and uncommunicatively. He has virtually no dialogue in the second half, thus focusing the story completely on Paul (D.H. Lawrence's alter ego). The elimination of the younger brother and the reduction of the father's dialogue did not eliminate anything important while giving the other characters the screen time necessary to explore their relationships in depth.

I did think that the setting seemed too sanitary. Given that the story took place in a mining and farming community at the grimy peak of the industrial revolution, I was astounded to see that it never seemed quite grim enough. These manual laborers managed to keep themselves, their clothing, and their abodes quite clean and salutary except for an occasional smudge of dirt on their cheeks.

With nothing more negative than that one minor complaint, I felt that everything was going along swimmingly and was quite true to Lawrence's spirit until the last fifteen minutes. Then the scriptwriter just sort of went off the track. Each of Paul's relationships with his two lovers ends with a slightly different spin than Lawrence had originally imparted. I assume that the author had to have had some specific point in mind when he made the changes, but I can't pick up on it. I honestly can't give you any reasons why the changes were any better or worse than Lawrence's scenes. They were just different, and I really have no objection to what he did to end Paul's two affairs.

The very last scene, however, was quite another matter. Paul sits in a pastoral setting and reminisces to himself, imagining a rosy-tinted version of the past, as portrayed by a repeat of earlier footage. This trite narrative technique seems strangely out of synch with the rest of the story, and totally outside the realm of Lawrence's inspiration. It feels like it was tacked on to add some warmth and a more hopeful tone. The word "corny" comes to mind.


* 2-disk set, 193 minutes.

* widescreen anamorphic

* no meaningful features






There are no significant reviews online.


6.3 IMDB summary (of 10)


It was made for British TV.


This version of the story was filmed on the Isle of Man (except for the old-fashioned railway station, which is actually in Yorkshire).

The 1960 film had been shot on location in Nottinghamshire, where the narrative actually took place.


There is a lot of nudity, and of the full-frontal variety at that, but it's all in the second half. In my opinion the story takes too long to get to the sex and nudity - more than two hours elapse before the "modern woman" character seduces Paul by coming naked into his room. If you are interested in the flesh, you can literally skip Part 1 entirely! Once it starts, however, the nudity is virtually non-stop, taking only an occasional break for the requisite scenes of squalor, death and misery which persuade us that the project is weighty enough to justify our ogling some attractive flesh.

  • Esther Hall - full frontal nudity multiples times, including once in perfect light.
  • Lyndsey Marshal - breasts and buns in good light; full frontal in a nighttime skinny-dip.
  • Rupert Evans - full frontal and rear nudity.


Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


If you're scoring at home, part 1 of the series is a C-. It would be of no interest to anyone not already predisposed to be interested in the source material or in this type of stodgy period piece. It has no nudity, and does a lot of stage-setting involving minor characters. Part 2 is much better. At least a C. Maybe a C+. It is livelier, has more plot development, concentrates on the central relationships, and is certainly not stodgy, since it has many, many minutes of sex and/or nudity.

Call it a C for the whole deal: good acting, good production values, a smart condensation of the plot and a very effective job at re-jigging the dialogue to make it flow more smoothly. In general, this is a solid offering for the Masterpiece Theater crowd, but too windy and soapy to interest mainstream viewers.