Song of Summer (1968)

And then, just like that, we’re back to the comparatively sober mode in which the Russell BBC box began. Apparently he’s said in fairly recent times that this was the best film he ever made, which judgement I can understand (though, as stated earlier, I’ve not seen enough of the big screen oeuvre to make the call myself). In this case, if Elgar was more or less outright documentary, this is more or less outright drama (any “documentary” content being translated into expository dialogue), but where Russell was a fan of the music of Elgar and Debussy he was much less so when it came to Frederick Delius (with whom I’m hardly acquainted; I recall not liking the few bits of his music I heard years ago that much). What drew him to make the film was the story of Eric Fenby, his amanuensis late in life at a time when he was blind and paralysed; Fenby offers his services somewhat out of the blue, and through him Delius manages to dictate his last works. It’s a difficult relationship, though; Delius’ last years of creativity come somewhat at the expense of Fenby’s own creativity, not to mention his health, and though there’s warmth in the relationship there’s no sentimentality in its depiction. Just because Delius is a cripple doesn’t mean we’re necessarily expected to sympathise with him. Christopher Gable walks a somewhat fine line as Fenby between looking like the inexperienced actor he was and looking like the young man out of his depth he was portraying; Max Adrian is terrific as Delius and Maureen Pryor equally so as his wife. Michael Brooke makes an interesting argument here that Russell’s TV work shouldn’t just be dismissed as apprentice work before he became a “real” director; certainly this film, like the rest of the BBC box, stands as good evidence that Russell was already a developed talent before finally breaking on the big screen the following year. I really do need to hunt out more of his films now…

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