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A view on Blu-ray by Gary W. Tooze

The Ken Russell Collection: The Great Passions [Blu-ray]


(Always on Sunday, 1965)

(Isadora: The Biggest Dancer in the World, 1966)

(Dante's Inferno, 1967)




Review by Gary Tooze



Theatrical: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)

Video: BFI Video



Region: 'B' (as verified by the Oppo Blu-ray player)

Runtimes: 0:45:11.040  / 1:04:36.247  / 1:27:35.040

Disc Size: 47,763,566,244 bytes

Always on Sunday Size: 9,281,799,552 bytes

Isadora: The Biggest Dancer in the World Size: 13,453,950,336 bytes

Dante's Inferno Size: 17,985,353,088 bytes

Video Bitrates: 24.00 Mbps

Chapters: 4, 7, 8

Case: Transparent Blu-ray case

Release date: March 28th, 2016



Aspect ratio: 1.33:1

Resolution: 1080i / 25 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video



LPCM Audio English 1536 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 1536 kbps / 16-bit

Dolby Digital Audio English 320 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 320 kbps


English (SDH), none



Michael Bradsell Interview (2015, 17:32): the film editor talks about working with Ken Russell
Late Night Line Up: Russell at Work (Ian Keill, 1966, 30:32): documentary shot during the making of Isadora
Brian Hoyle audio commentary for Always on Sunday
Paul Sutton audio commentary for Isadora
Brian Hoyle audio commentary for Dante's Inferno
The Paul Sutton Tapes: alternative audio track to Isadora: comprising interviews which Paul Sutton conducted with the cast and crew between 2008 and 2012 (1:04:36)
Illustrated booklet featuring new essays by John Wyver, Kevin Jackson, Christophe Van Eecke, Brian Hoyle, Paul Sutton and Michael Brooke, and full credits

DVD (Dual-Format)



Always on Sunday



Isadora: The Biggest Dancer in the World



Dante's Inferno



Three films by Ken Russell

A Dual Format Edition collection bringing together the career defining work of Ken Russell at the BBC. Russell's work during the sixties for award-winning arts documentary series Monitor and Omnibus were critically-acclaimed and often seen as a high point in his filmmaking.

The collection opens with Always on Sunday (1965) a dramatized examination of the painter Henri Rousseau. The combination of Russell reuniting with Melvyn Bragg and Oliver Reed and Russell's infectious love of the film's subject results in a film which is illuminating in every frame. Isadora: The Biggest Dancer in the World (1966), a study of the outrageous American dancer, Isadora Duncan, starring Vivian Pickles as the dancer whose obsession with the importance of art and complete disdain for decorum chimes perfectly with Russell's own sensibility. Last of the TV dramas is Dante's Inferno (1967) which tells of the complex relationship between the 19th century artist and poet, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and his model Elizabeth Siddal.

The films in this collection have been remastered to High Definition, and are presented on Blu-ray for the very first time.





The Film:

Always on Sunday
A dramatised portrait of the painter Henri Rousseau (1844-1910), known popularly as 'Le Douanier' because of his day job as a Customs clerk (he never reached the level implied by the nickname), both the film's best-known title and the one that actually appears on screen (Henri Rousseau: Sunday Painter) refer to the fact that his art had to be produced in his spare time, even after retirement.

Rousseau is played by the painter James Lloyd, the subject of an earlier Ken Russell Monitor documentary (The Dotty World of James Lloyd, BBC, tx. 5/7/1964), whose own career as a misunderstood na´ve painter had many similarities. As Russell later told his biographer John Baxter, "He helped a lot with the atmosphere and the actors, because professionals have to adopt a different attitude when they're with someone like that. They can't do their 'acting' bit."

It was Russell's first fully dramatised biopic, without either the restrictions imposed by Monitor's former editor Huw Wheldon or the complex film-within-a-film framework of The Debussy Film (BBC, tx. 18/5/1965). Here, the actors use their own voices (Lloyd's Cheshire accent neatly paralleling Rousseau's provincial Breton) or, in Annette Robertson's case, are dubbed by a male voice to create an unsettlingly androgynous Alfred Jarry. The film also reunited Russell with Melvyn Bragg and Oliver Reed, who wrote and delivered the understated commentary.

Excerpt from BFI ScreenOnline located HERE


Isadora: The Biggest Dancer in the World
There's plenty of over-the-top exuberance at the start, a breathless montage of speeded-up images, music and quoted newspaper headlines that crams all the best-known stories about the dancer Isadora Duncan (1878-1927) into just two minutes. The remaining hour is spent examining the same material in much greater detail, attempting to explain the motivations behind her frequently scandalous life and career while conveying both her impossible ambitions and her actual achievements.

Russell presents this as a mixture of dramatised material and fantasy sequences that blend original dance numbers with footage from Leni Riefenstahl's Olympia (Germany, 1938), an ecstatic paean to the glory of the human body. The scale of Russell's set-pieces belies the film's television origins, with a jazz band playing on the roof of a hearse, a giant box breaking open to reveal half a dozen harpists, and the screen filling with hundreds of dancing children at the climax.

Excerpt from BFI ScreenOnline located HERE

Dante's Inferno
Dante's Inferno: The Private Life of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Poet and Painter (1967) is a feature-length 35mm film directed by Ken Russell and first screened on the BBC on 22 December 1967 as part of Omnibus. It quickly became a staple in cinemas in retrospectives of Russell's work. It tells of the relationship between the 19th-century artist and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his model, Elizabeth Siddal.

The exhumation of Lizzie Siddal's desiccated body is seen, followed by a shot of Rossetti dancing among the flames of a bonfire of paintings by Reynolds and Gainsborough. A voice-over informs us that Rossetti is a founder of a revolutionary group of artists called the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. The figure of the young Lizzie dressed as Joan of Arc appears above the flames.

Lizzie is seen modelling for Millais' Ophelia and for a painting of Joan by Rossetti. The voice-over states that she eats little and often throws it up. She and Rossetti spend several years together while he paints and draws her, but she spurns his sexual advances, even slashing him with a needle when he presses himself on her. Rossetti turns to the more accommodating Fanny Cornforth.

Lizzie is introduced to laudanum by Emma Brown to alleviate her stomach pain. She is advised by Christina Rossetti that Dante Gabriel needs a patron. Christina's voice-over speaks her poem In an Artist's Studio, about Lizzie. She tells Lizzie she looks ill. Rossetti and Christina visit William Holman Hunt, who is painting The Light of the World. Hunt asks Rossetti to look after his girlfriend Annie Miller while he is away in the Holy Land painting The Scapegoat, but Rossetti has an affair with her and Hunt spurns her on his return. John Ruskin visits Rossetti's studio and shows an interest in Lizzie's art.

Excerpt from Wikipedia located HERE


Image :    NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.

The Ken Russell Collection: The Great Passions is simultaneously released on Blu-ray from BFI with The Ken Russell Collection: The Great Composers.  Both are dual-layered with three films from his award-winning arts documentary series Monitor and Omnibus works in the 60's produced by the BBC. These are rare and unique and it was a wonderful idea to bring them to the higher resolution since almost exclusively viewed on small television tubes 50-years hence. The Great Passions set comprises Monitor's Always on Sunday, Isadora: The Biggest Dancer in the World, and another documentary/biography from Omnibus' Dante's Inferno. Each in black and white and 1.33:1 aspect ratio. From original source these are all 1080i and 25 fps (PAL) which is how they would have been viewed in their broadcast premieres. Bitrates are supportive at 24 mbps and the image seems very adept and, probably, as accurate as we are likely to get considering the original production. There is some very minor frame-specific damage usually in the form of vertical scratches but it is few and far between. Generally, they are very watchable but the quality varies being dissimilar to each other in terms of visual attributes. Hopefully the Blu-ray captures should give you a reasonable idea of how they might look on your home theatre system. I had no demonstrative complaints.




Always on Sunday







Isadora: The Biggest Dancer in the World










Dante's Inferno










Audio :

BFI use a linear PCM mono tracks (16-bit) for all 3 films. They are, predictably. flat with a pinch of depth. There is no credited score but there is some musical cues (unlike The Great Composers which is filled with sweeping classical scores from the respective bio'ed composers featured in that set) and everything sounds clean and reasonably consistent in the uncompressed if having a limited impact on the presentation. There are optional English (SDH) subtitles and my Oppo has identified it as being a region 'B'-locked.


Extras :

This package is loaded with supplements including the older commentaries for each film (Brian Hoyle for Always on Sunday and Dante's Inferno and Paul Sutton for Isadora) plus a new (2015) 18-minute interview with Michael Bradsell; the film editor talks about working with Ken Russell, a 1/2 hour documentary shot during the making of Isadora entitled Late Night Line Up: Russell at Work made by Ian Keill in 1966, and The Paul Sutton Tapes - which offers an alternative audio track to Isadora: comprising interviews which Paul Sutton conducted with the cast and crew between 2008 and 2012. There is an illustrated booklet featuring new essays by John Wyver, Kevin Jackson, Christophe Van Eecke, Brian Hoyle, Paul Sutton and Michael Brooke, and full credits and the release is dual-format with a 2 DVDs included.



TRIVIA NOTE: from IMDb (about Isadora: The Biggest Dancer in the World) "According to Eric Idle, he and two other future members of Monty Python (Terry Jones and Michael Palin) are among the band members on top of a hearse in an early scene. This occurs approximately a minute and thirty seconds into the film and only lasts for a moment."



The Ken Russell Collections: are a fabulous idea by the BFI. These are can really represent a landmark in exposing higher culture/art with Russell's unique explorations they are so dissimilar to mainstream  - and we get three of them on one Blu-ray! The a/v quality is, akin to the broadcast original, more modest but we also get immense value in the extras as well as access to the films in HD. I thoroughly enjoyed watching these - especially Dante's Inferno and Always on Sunday - truly brilliant! Pretty much a must-own for the director's loyal following and we give it our highest recommendation. Amazing job BFI! 

Gary Tooze

March 12th, 2016



About the Reviewer: Hello, fellow Beavers! I have been interested in film since I viewed a Chaplin festival on PBS when I was around 9 years old. I credit DVD with expanding my horizons to fill an almost ravenous desire to seek out new film experiences. I currently own approximately 9500 DVDs and have reviewed over 5000 myself. I appreciate my discussion Listserv for furthering my film education and inspiring me to continue running DVDBeaver. Plus a healthy thanks to those who donate and use our Amazon links.

Although I never wanted to become one of those guys who focused 'too much' on image and sound quality - I find HD is swiftly pushing me in that direction.

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Gary W. Tooze






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