In the early days of the Oscars literary adaptations were ten-a-penny however they appear to have had a resurgence during the 1960s. One such adaptation which the academy fell in love with was Jack Cardiff’s adaptation of DH Lawrence’s Son and Lovers.
The fact that Sons and Lovers isn’t even one of Lawrence’s better-regarded works seemingly doesn’t matter to the academy. In fact I believe that any work based on English literature is seen as instantly prestigious and therefore more likely to receive an Oscar nod. Cardiff’s film focuses on the second half of Sons and Lovers as he explores the relationship between Gertrude Morel and her second son Paul. Those who are unfamiliar with the novel won’t know that Gertrude’s relationship with miner husband Walter isn’t great and deteriorates even more when their youngest son dies in a mining accident. Instead Gertrude focuses all of her time on Paul, who dotes on her more than anyone else. His relationship with his mother affects his romances firstly with the homely Miriam and later with the much more experienced married woman Clara. Artistic Paul is also offered a scholarship to London but turns it down as he doesn’t want to leave his mother alone with his father. Eventually Gertrude starts to become ill and it seems that she will soon die, a fact that Paul finds it hard to cope with. As Gertrude pops her clogs, Walter convinces Paul to go off to London and make his mother proud.
While I wouldn’t necessarily say Sons and Lovers was a bad film there is certainly nothing particularly memorable about it. Even sitting here now, a couple of days after watching it, I’ve had to struggle to remember the finer parts of the plot. To be fair to the film it did make the most of its Nottingham scenery with Freddie Francis winning a Best Cinematography award for his camera work. In terms of the cast, Trevor Howard was the only nominated star from the film even though I didn’t really think much of his Walter. Meanwhile I found Dean Stockwell’s Paul to be a little sickly and even the usually great Wendy Hiller suffered with the thankless task of playing the needy Gertrude. Ultimately Sons and Lovers doesn’t really have a lot to say about anything and instead is simply a book to film adaptation. While that suits some people, I have to say to me this seemed like just another film and certainly didn’t deserve its Best Picture nomination.