Title

Clouds of Glory: William and Dorothy and The Ancient Mariner

Date published/released: 

1978

Publication Information: 

Granada Television

"David Warner as WW, David Hemmings as STC" —A. Richardson

"The two-part, 104-minute "Clouds of Glory": "William and Dorothy" and "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" (Saturday at 6:30 p.m.) is flat-out brilliant, representative of both Russell and his actors at their finest. Russell catches up in the challenging relationship between poet William Wordsworth (David Warner) and his sister Dorothy (Felicity Kendal). A notable poet in her own right, Dorothy, in Russell's 1978 telling, coped with their profound love for each other bravely, with Wordsworth marrying an adoring, unsophisticated woman (Kika Markham) to serve as a saving buffer between them. Russell celebrates Wordsworth's poetry in the incomparably beautiful countryside from which he drew strength and inspiration.

In the second part, with David Hemmings giving a harrowing yet sympathetic performance of a lifetime as Wordsworth's fellow Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Russell makes stunning use of "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" as a metaphor for Coleridge's tormented existence, at once devastated and inspired by his long addiction to laudanum." -K. Thomas

"Ken Russell’s two 1978 TV films on the Lake District poets William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Clouds of Glory: William and Dorothy and Clouds of Glory: Rime of the Ancient Mariner, have become—apparently due to music rights—almost impossible to see. The tragedy of this is that the two films—which do intersect—are among the finest works in Russell’s career, especially Rime of the Ancient Mariner. The films were made quickly and cheaply for Granada Television—and were frankly the only thing in the offing for Russell after the box-office failure ofValentino (1977). You’d never know it from the resulting films—except perhaps for the heavy reliance on shooting in natural light, which actually suits the tone.

Originally planned as three films—the third, King of the Crocodiles, about the minor Lake poet Robert Southey, was never made—Clouds of Glory, as it stands, provides two perfectly complementary and contrasting works. Either film works alone, but they work better together. They reflect two very different—yet not unrelated—sides of both the key Lake poets and of Russell’s own love affair with the Lake District. That particular area of England was something the filmmaker discovered in 1967 while making Dante’s Inferno, and it quickly became to Russell as Monument Valley became to John Ford. The area crops up in one form or another in films as diverse as Dance of the Seven Veils (1970), The Devils (1971), Mahler (1974),Tommy (1975) and The Rainbow (1989). Clouds often recalls the earlier films—and indeed copies (to quite a different end) the penultimate shot from Tommy in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

The films were written in collaboration with Russell’s old BBC friend Melvyn Bragg, who’d also written The Music Lovers(1970). Not surprisingly—in light of the sensibilities of both men—Bragg’s contribution was greater on the more pastoralWilliam and Dorothy, or to give it its full title, William and Dorothy: The Love Story of the Poet Wordsworth and His Sister. That full title is not a come-on, because that is exactly what the film is. It is not, however, in any way salacious, but it does directly address the concept of Wordsworth’s (David Warner) sister (Felicity Kendal) as both the poet’s muse and his natural wife. There is even a scene that depicts a kind of marriage in nature.

It’s a gentle film that is bound together by their relationship, Wordsworth’s poetry, the image of the Lake District and a rich musical tapestry drawn from the works of Frank Bridge, John Ireland and George Butterworth. Built around a framing story involving the older Wordsworths, William’s fears that Dorothy is dying and a chance encounter with a fictional visiting American, Reverend Dewey (William Hootkins), the film is told largely in flashbacks that recount the lives of the pair. The approach works with quiet intensity—thanks in no small part to the performances of the three main characters and David Warner’s ability to recite Wordsworth’s poems with the conviction of an artist who is carried away by his own emotionalism. When this is combined with Russell’s visual patterning and the beautiful images he and his most frequent cinematographer, Dick Bush, conjure up, the results are far more stunning in cumulative impact than a simple reading might suggest.

In some ways, William and Dorothy suffers a bit when placed alongside the cinematic fireworks ofThe Rime of the Ancient Mariner: The Strange Story of Samuel Coleridge, Poet and Drug Addict. But frankly, most films would—and part of the reason Rime works so well is due to its juxtaposition to the quieter first film." -K. Hanke