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Movie Review: Coming Through

Director: Peter Barber-Fleming

Rating ***

This is an engrossing film for D.H. Lawrence fans, or for those who simply want to learn more about him. Framed in excerpts from his work, the 1985 movie, celebrating his 100 th birthday, is punctuated by flashbacks to his affair-filled life in England and his courtship of Frieda von Richtofen Weekley-Lawrence-Ravagli-Luhan (played by Helen Mirren). Artful cinematography and an impressive performance by Kenneth Branagh as D.H. Lawrence (aka Bert) combine to make this languid film a worthwhile trip through this part of the man's life.

Frieda was quite a character she sent her third husband, Angelo Ravagli, to collect and cremate D.H. Lawrence's body, initially buried in a cemetery in Saxony with his parents, and bring the remains to Taos, New Mexico. There, his ashes are mixed in the cement of the altar of the D.H. Lawrence Memorial that Ravagli built. While playing Frieda is not Helen Mirren's finest hour, we do catch glimpses of her trademark sexy toughness.

A haughty German aristocrat, Frieda meets the tubercular Bert at Sunday lunch one day a get-together arranged by the elderly Mr. Weekley to discuss Lawrence's post-teaching career. Perhaps Frieda was enchanted by Bert's bluntness ("I'm not an English gentleman, Mrs. Weekley, I'm a collier's son.") or by his poetic idiom ("Chalkdust makes me cough and...corrodes my soul.") Regardless, they fall in love and eventually decide to marry, even though it means giving up custody of Frieda's three children, who adore "Uncle Bert".

The story stops here, just when we're geared for action. It is told through the eyes of two young students, played by Alison Steadman and Philip Martin Brown, who go to Nottingham in 1985 to follow in D.H. Lawrence's literary footsteps. The film doesn't need these two characters or their own story, which interrupt the flow of what could have been an excellent classic movie in the "Masterpiece Theater" tradition.