Picks and Pans Review: Priest of Love

updated 11/16/1981 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/16/1981 AT 01:00 AM EST

D.H. Lawrence, who lived from 1885 to 1930, was a giant of English literature, but today he is read mostly on college campuses. The once startling candor with which he treated sex in such books as Women in Love and Lady Chatterley's Lover seems almost tame. Perhaps to make up for the recent neglect of the author, and possibly because producer-director Christopher Miles has a strong background in British TV, the movie has an episodic, almost documentary feel. Ian McKellen, who starred in Amadeus on Broadway, portrays the tortured, tubercular Lawrence, who lures a German noblewoman (Janet Suzman) away from her husband and three daughters. They traipse all over Europe, often hounded by local bluenoses, and ended up living in Taos, N.Mex. as wards of an American patroness (played winningly by Ava Gardner). The scenes in Priest of Love (the phrase is from one of Lawrence's letters and refers to himself) are brief, the pace is swift. A visit to the popcorn counter could deprive a moviegoer of five years of the author's life. It is an odd movie; the performances are uniformly splendid and the locations authentic, but it sacrifices emotion for information. For a perceptive view of Lawrence's later life, see the movie; for a glimpse into his heart, read his books. (R)

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