Ken Russell was a British filmmaker known for his highly stylized and controversial films, often featuring unconventional storytelling and avant-garde visuals.

He was active in the film industry from the 1960s until his death in 2011, and during that time he directed numerous critically acclaimed and highly influential films. Here’s a brief introduction to some of his best films:

“Women in Love” (1969) – This film adaptation of D.H. Lawrence’s novel of the same name earned Russell his first Academy Award nomination for Best Director.

It stars Alan Bates, Oliver Reed, Glenda Jackson, and Jennie Linden in a story that explores love, sexuality, and the tensions between intellectual and emotional pursuits.

“The Devils” (1971) – Considered by many to be Russell’s masterpiece, “The Devils” is a highly controversial and visually stunning film that explores themes of religious fanaticism, sexual repression, and political corruption.

It stars Oliver Reed as a priest accused of witchcraft and Vanessa Redgrave as a hunchbacked nun who becomes obsessed with him.

“Tommy” (1975) – This musical adaptation of The Who’s rock opera of the same name is one of Russell’s most commercially successful films.

It stars Roger Daltrey as the titular character, a deaf, dumb, and blind boy who becomes a pinball champion and a cult leader.

“Lair of the White Worm” (1988) – This horror-comedy film is based on a Bram Stoker novel and stars Amanda Donohoe as a seductive snake-like creature who terrorizes a small town.

It’s a visually striking and highly entertaining film that showcases Russell’s talent for blending genres and pushing boundaries.

Best Ken Russell Films

These films represent some of the best examples of Ken Russell’s unique filmmaking style and are highly recommended for fans of bold and unconventional cinema.

1. Women in Love (1969)

“Women in Love” is a British romantic drama film directed by Ken Russell and released in 1969. The film stars Oliver Reed and Alan Bates as best friends and coal mine owners, Gerald and Rupert, who both fall in love with two sisters, Gudrun and Ursula, played by Glenda Jackson and Jennie Linden.

Set in England in the early 20th century, the film explores themes of love, sexuality, and social conventions.

The relationships between the four main characters are complex and intense, and the film features several controversial scenes, including a nude wrestling match between Reed and Bates.

“Women in Love” was a critical and commercial success upon its release, and is now considered a landmark in British cinema.

The film won several awards, including an Academy Award for Best Actress for Jackson’s performance, and is known for its stunning visuals, powerful performances, and frank exploration of sexuality and desire.

Women in Love [DVD]
  • Alan Bates, Oliver Reed, Glenda Jackson (Actors)
  • Ken Russell (Director) - D.H. Lawrence (Writer)
  • English, Spanish, French (Subtitles)
  • Audience Rating: R (Restricted)

2. Omnibus (1967–2003) Episode: Song of Summer (1968)

“Omnibus” was a long-running documentary television series that aired from 1967 to 2003, covering a wide range of topics in the arts, culture, and sciences.


One of the most acclaimed episodes of the series was “Song of Summer,” which aired in 1968 and was directed by Ken Russell.

The episode tells the story of the final months in the life of English composer Frederick Delius (played by Max Adrian) and his relationship with his amanuensis, Eric Fenby (played by Christopher Gable). The film is a moving and powerful exploration of creativity, passion, and the struggle to create art in the face of adversity.

“Song of Summer” is notable for its innovative use of music and visuals, which help to convey the emotional intensity of Delius’ music and the passion of his life’s work.

The film also features stunning performances by the actors and musicians, as well as a thoughtful and nuanced script that explores the complexities of the human experience.

Overall, “Song of Summer” is a must-watch for fans of classical music, as well as those interested in exploring the lives of great artists and the creative process.

It is a powerful and unforgettable tribute to the life and work of one of England’s greatest composers.

Delius - Song of Summer
  • Max Adrian (Actor)
  • Ken Russell (Director)

3. Mahler (1974)

“Mahler” is a biographical film about the life of the renowned composer Gustav Mahler, directed by Ken Russell and released in 1974.

The film depicts Mahler’s personal struggles, including his Jewish identity and his difficult relationships with his wife and family, as well as his professional success as a composer and conductor.

The film features a non-linear narrative structure, blending dream sequences, flashbacks, and other cinematic techniques to create a surreal and emotionally intense portrait of Mahler’s life.

The film also explores the themes of mortality, creativity, and artistic expression, as well as the tension between personal fulfillment and societal expectations.


The film received critical acclaim for its innovative style, powerful performances, and bold exploration of Mahler’s life and work.

It is considered one of Ken Russell’s most accomplished films and is often cited as a classic of the biographical genre.

Mahler: A Film by Ken Russell
  • this UK import "PAL" disc will not play on region 1 players, you must have a region free or code...

4. Altered States (1980)

“Altered States” is a science fiction-horror film released in 1980, directed by Ken Russell and starring William Hurt, Blair Brown, and Bob Balaban.

The film follows a scientist named Eddie Jessup (Hurt), who becomes obsessed with exploring altered states of consciousness through a series of dangerous and increasingly extreme experiments.

Here are three reasons why you should watch “Altered States”:

Unique and innovative visual effects: The film features groundbreaking visual effects that were ahead of their time, including extensive use of practical effects and animation to depict Eddie’s surreal hallucinations and transformations.

The imagery is often disturbing and intense, and creates a sense of unease and tension throughout the film.


Psychological exploration of the human mind: The film explores complex philosophical and psychological ideas, such as the nature of consciousness, the role of science in understanding the human mind, and the impact of trauma on one’s sense of self.

The themes are handled with thoughtfulness and nuance, and will challenge you to think deeply about the nature of human existence.

Strong performances: William Hurt delivers a compelling performance as Eddie Jessup, portraying the character’s intense passion and descent into madness with great skill.

Blair Brown also shines as Emily, Eddie’s wife, who tries to understand and support her husband’s obsession while struggling with her own fears and doubts.

Overall, “Altered States” is a visually stunning and intellectually stimulating film that is sure to leave a lasting impression on viewers.

Altered States (1980)
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • William Hurt, Blair Brown, Bob Balaban (Actors)
  • Ken Russell (Director) - Sidney Aaron (Writer) - Howard Gottfried (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

5. Monitor (1958–1965) Episode: Always on Sunday (1965)

“Monitor” was a television program that aired on NBC in the United States from 1958 to 1971. It was a cultural affairs program that featured a wide range of content, including documentaries, interviews, music, and live performances.

The episode “Always on Sunday” aired on April 25, 1965, and was a profile of the Greek filmmaker, Costa-Gavras.

The episode featured interviews with Costa-Gavras, as well as footage from some of his films, including “The Sleeping Car Murders” and “Z.”

“Monitor” was an important program in the history of television, as it helped to establish the documentary format and introduced many innovative techniques, such as split-screen and multi-camera coverage.

6. The Rainbow (1989)

“The Rainbow” is a British drama film directed by Ken Russell and released in 1989. The film is based on the novel of the same name by D.H. Lawrence and stars Sammi Davis as Ursula Brangwen, a young woman living in rural England in the early 20th century.

The film follows Ursula’s journey of self-discovery as she struggles to find her place in a changing world.

Along the way, she falls in love with Anton Skrebensky (played by Paul McGann), a soldier who is traumatized by his experiences in World War I, and begins a passionate and tumultuous relationship with her cousin, Winifred (played by Amanda Donohoe).

“The Rainbow” is a visually stunning film that explores themes of love, sexuality, and freedom. Russell’s bold and vibrant direction, combined with Davis’ strong performance, bring Lawrence’s novel to life in a way that is both visually stunning and emotionally powerful.

Despite mixed reviews upon its release, “The Rainbow” has since gained a following among fans of Lawrence’s work and those interested in British cinema.

The Rainbow (1989)
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Sammi Davis, Amanda Donohoe, David Hemmings (Actors)
  • Ken Russell (Director) - Ken Russell (Writer) - Ken Russell (Producer)
  • (Playback Language)
  • Audience Rating: R (Restricted)

7. The Music Lovers (1971)

“The Music Lovers” is a 1971 drama film directed by Ken Russell, known for his often controversial and flamboyant style.

The film tells the story of the tumultuous marriage between Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (played by Richard Chamberlain) and his wife Antonina Milyukova (played by Glenda Jackson), a woman who is driven to madness by her obsession with her husband.

The film is notable for its lush visuals and opulent set designs, as well as its highly stylized approach to storytelling.

Russell uses music and imagery to create a feverish, hallucinatory atmosphere that perfectly captures the emotional intensity of Tchaikovsky’s music and the turbulent passions of his life.

Despite its unconventional approach to storytelling and controversial depiction of historical figures, “The Music Lovers” is widely regarded as a masterpiece of British cinema.


It is recommended for fans of Ken Russell’s other works, as well as those interested in exploring the lives of great artists and the creative process.

Music Lovers, The
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Richard Chamberlain, Glenda jackson, Max Adrian (Actors)
  • Russell,Ken (Director) - Melvyn Bragg (Writer) - Ken Russell (Producer)
  • (Playback Language)
  • Audience Rating: R (Restricted)

8. The Devils (1971)

“The Devils” is a historical drama film directed by Ken Russell and released in 1971. The film is based on the true story of the alleged possession and exorcism of nuns in the French city of Loudun in the 17th century.

The film is known for its controversial and provocative content, including its depictions of sexual and religious themes.

It features a star-studded cast, including Oliver Reed as the charismatic and controversial priest Father Urbain Grandier, and Vanessa Redgrave as the hunchbacked nun Sister Jeanne, who becomes obsessed with him.

“The Devils” is considered a masterpiece of British cinema and a landmark of Ken Russell’s career. The film’s use of elaborate sets, vivid imagery, and intense performances has been praised by critics and filmmakers alike.

However, due to its controversial subject matter, the film has been subject to censorship and controversy over the years, and it remains a polarizing work of art.


9. Monitor (1958–1965) Episode: Monitor Special: The Debussy Film (1965)

Monitor” was a BBC television series that aired from 1958 to 1965, featuring a range of arts and culture programs. One of the episodes of the series was a Monitor Special titled “The Debussy Film,” which aired in 1965.

Directed by Ken Russell, “The Debussy Film” is a docudrama that explores the life and work of French composer Claude Debussy.

The film features a mix of dramatizations of key moments in Debussy’s life, along with performances of his music and interviews with musicians and experts on his work.

Here are three reasons why you should watch “Monitor Special: The Debussy Film”:

Innovative approach to storytelling: “The Debussy Film” combines elements of drama, documentary, and musical performance to create a unique and engaging viewing experience.


The film features striking visual imagery and creative use of sound and music to bring Debussy’s world to life.

Insightful exploration of Debussy’s life and work: The film offers a rich and nuanced exploration of Debussy’s artistic vision and the influences that shaped his music.

Through interviews with experts and musicians, as well as dramatizations of key moments in his life, viewers can gain a deeper understanding of his unique style and impact on the world of music.

Masterful direction by Ken Russell: Ken Russell was known for his innovative and daring approach to filmmaking, and “The Debussy Film” is no exception.

Russell’s direction is both bold and sensitive, capturing the spirit of Debussy’s music while also exploring the human drama behind it.

Overall, “Monitor Special: The Debussy Film” is a fascinating and unique exploration of one of the most important composers of the 20th century, and a must-watch for anyone interested in the world of classical music or innovative filmmaking.

3 Characteristics of Ken Russell Films

Ken Russell was known for his avant-garde and controversial films that often explored provocative themes and featured striking visuals. Here are three characteristics of his films:

Bold and theatrical visuals: Russell was known for his use of vivid, bold, and sometimes surreal imagery in his films. He often incorporated theatrical elements and symbolism to create a heightened sense of drama and emotion.

Provocative and controversial subject matter: Russell’s films often explored controversial and taboo subjects, such as religion, sexuality, and politics.

He was not afraid to tackle difficult or sensitive topics and was known for pushing the boundaries of what was acceptable in cinema.

Blending of different art forms: Russell often incorporated elements from different art forms, such as music, painting, and literature, into his films. He was particularly interested in the intersection of music and film, and several of his films featured musical performances or were inspired by classical music composers.

3 Reasons Why You Should Watch Ken Russell Films

Certainly, here are three reasons why you should watch Ken Russell films:

Bold and Unconventional Storytelling: Ken Russell was known for his bold and unconventional storytelling approach that often challenged traditional cinematic norms.

He used bold visual and auditory techniques, surreal imagery, and unconventional storytelling methods to create films that are both visually stunning and thought-provoking.

Provocative Themes: Russell’s films often dealt with provocative themes that explored the darker aspects of human nature, including sex, violence, and obsession.

His films were not afraid to push boundaries and challenge social norms, making them some of the most daring and controversial films of their time.

Innovative Cinematography and Sound: Russell’s films were renowned for their innovative cinematography and sound design. He experimented with different camera techniques, angles, and lenses to create visually stunning and dynamic films.

His use of music and sound was also innovative, with many of his films featuring original scores by prominent composers, such as Rick Wakeman and Peter Maxwell Davies.


Best Ken Russell Films – Wrapping Up

In conclusion, Ken Russell was a British filmmaker known for his visually striking and often controversial films. Some of his best works include:

“Women in Love” (1969)

“The Devils” (1971)

“Tommy” (1975)

“Lair of the White Worm” (1988)

“Altered States” (1980)

These films showcase Russell’s unique style, which blends vivid imagery, complex themes, and provocative subject matter. Russell’s work was often divisive, but it has since gained a following among fans of avant-garde and experimental cinema. His films continue to inspire and challenge audiences to this day.