Women in Love is one of those movies that under normal circumstances I would have quit watching after about twenty minutes. But since it was based on a novel by D.H. Lawrence, I persuaded myself that it must be important somehow, and since I had not read the book, I thought maybe I could get myself a little culture on the cheap.
Eleanor Bron as Hermione does her usually marvelous job of playing a woman you could not stand to be around even if she were rich, which she is. This is important, because the other characters in the movie are the sort you would not want to be around either, but compared to Hermione, they seem fairly tolerable.
But not very. In addition to being an all-round unpleasant fellow, Gerald (Oliver Reed) enjoys being cruel to his horse, whipping him furiously and digging his spurs deep into the animal’s flesh, simply because the terrified creature refuses the cross the railroad tracks while a freight train speeds by. Gerald has a bisexual friend named Rupert (Alan Bates) with whom he wrestles, all naked and sweaty, but Gerald is not quite ready to put Rupert in that special hold Rupert longs for. Rupert does not do mean things like torment horses, but he does have some irritating personality traits, such as acting as if anything he does is justified because it is spontaneous.
Central to the movie are two sisters, Gudrun (Glenda Jackson) and Ursula (Jennie Linden). They witness Gerald’s mistreatment of his horse and seem horrified at the time, but they continue to socialize with him as if nothing is wrong, and so it is hard to like these women after that, especially Gudrun, who ends up having sex with him. Ursula takes up with Rupert, and she has the naïve idea that marriage should simply be based on the love between a man and a woman, and she never does quite understand why Rupert thinks it should involve other people as well, especially men.
The four of them take a vacation to Switzerland, where Gudrun meets a German artist. The artist tells of how he brutally beat a woman to make her pose properly for the picture he was painting. Women are like horses in this movie: you have to beat them until they submit to your will, which is what turns Gudrun on, because she soon decides to go live with him. This makes Gerald homicidal, and then suicidal, wandering off into the snow so he will freeze to death. Rupert’s thoughts upon looking at his dead friend was how Rupert had offered himself but never had a chance to have that special experience with him. Ursula still does not quite know what to make of Rupert’s strange ideas.