Days Are Numbers are proud to announce that we are the latest addition to the impressive line-up of hosts for the Russell Forever season – a series of film screenings dedicated to the life and work of the one and only Ken Russell. And as if it couldn’t get any more exciting, the film we have selected to show is one of Uncle Ken’s very best, not to mention one of his most unfairly neglected…

Savage Messiah was released in 1972 just one year after Ken Russell had rather remarkably made both The Devils and The Boyfriend. Those latter films may be his most controversial and gleefully upbeat (respectively), but I can’t help but feel that Savage Messiah is by far the most personal film he ever made. He was certainly determined to bring it to the screen as, despite his huge double box-office success of 1971, Russell would sink a lot of his own money into this biopic of Henri Gaudier-Brzeska – clearly it was a story he felt compelled to tell.

Henri Gaudier is a young, aspiring French sculptor who runs away to London with Sophie, a Polish governess almost twice his age, after their unlikely affair is met with typically bourgeois disapproval by his family (he also adopts her surname, hence Gaudier-Brzeska). Once in London the two struggle desperately to make ends meet, before things begin to change after young Henri is courted by the cream of the capital’s bohemian art-world on the strength of a handful of sketches. Gleefully lying about the size of his body of work in order to court favour, Gaudier-Brzeska begins to sculpt through day and night, embarking on a furious flurry of creativity which will ultimately lead him to success – but it is a success that will further rupture his already turbulent relationship with his beloved Sophie.

More famous for his accounts of the lives of the great composers (including Tchaikovsky in The Music Lovers and Franz Liszt in Lisztomania), it seems very much apparent to me that the one subject Ken Russell personally identified with the most was the sculptor hero of Savage Messiah. There are question marks over the authenticity of many parts of the story (as there are in every Russell biopic), but that counts for very little as Gaudier-Brzeska the sculptor, if possibly not quite the man, is brought kicking and screaming to life, every inch the witty, iconoclastic and anti-establishment enfant terrible – a lot like the director himself, of course. Savage Messiah also benefits from having one of the strongest screenplays Ken Russell ever worked with, courtesy of the English poet Christopher Logue, and one that concludes with perhaps the most memorable closing exchange in 70s British cinema…

Here you can read our previous article on the first edition of Ivan Drago School of Excellence.

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