Masters: Ken Russell

A true iconoclast among British filmmakers, Ken Russell began his career in television, making films for the BBC that combined elements of the documentary and the biopic to radical effect. Many of Russell’s television films focus on composers, a trend he would continue throughout his career, resulting in baroque theatrical features about the likes of Tchaikovsky, Mahler, and Liszt. Whether making biopics like Mahler, adaptations of canonized literary classics such as Women in Love, or wild phantasmagorias such as Altered States, Russell’s approach was always flamboyant and brash, the resultant films luxuriating in the tawdry or sensational. Often controversial, Russell always maintained the courage of his convictions and a defiant consistency of vision. Never beholden to decorum or conventional standards of good taste, Russell’s films continue to maintain their ability to shock, awe, and delight. His is a decadent cinema suggesting that civilization may not be so civilized after all.

Series Films


Directed by KEN RUSSELL

The provocative Ken Russell directs the audacious screen adaptation of D.H. Lawrence’s classic 1920 novel of romantic entanglements in his singular, transgressive style. Featuring an Oscar-winning performance by Glenda Jackson.

The DEVILS (1971)
Directed by KEN RUSSELL

The legendary Ken Russell fashions his most powerful and controversial film, The Devils, detailing sexual hypocrisy and religious strife in 17th century France.

Altered states (1980)
Directed by Ken Russell

Ken Russell makes a “head trip” movie, featuring William Hurt as a scientist investigating the nature of primitive consciousness and reality.

Mahler (1974)
Directed by Ken Russell

Ken Russell returns to his BBC Monitor roots with an impressionistic tale of composer Gustav Mahler’s sad yet joyous life.

Tommy (1975)
Directed by Ken Russell

The ultimate rock opera, Ken Russell’s Tommy blew up the box office with its tale of a deaf, dumb, and blind pinball kid who becomes a cultural and religious messiah.