Picks and Pans Review: The Rainbow

updated 08/07/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/07/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

A&E (Sat., Aug. 5, 9 P.M. ET)

A

This three-part BBC adaptation of D.H. Lawrence's 1915 novel oozes sensuality. Oozes? Watching it is as physical a sensation as eating a 10-course dinner at a four-star restaurant, or a water-slide ride in your birthday suit on a hot summer day. If the uptight folks at A&E hadn't decided to edit some of the nudity from the original six-hour production shown in Britain, your television set might just melt before your eyes. But let's get one thing straight. This is not cable porn. And it's not for kids. This is a mature, intelligent work, gorgeously photographed and fabulously acted. Just let it wash over you, like a wave. Or the warm flow of a kiss, as Lawrence himself might say.

Right now there's a major Rainbow connection in progress. Ken Russell, whose film version of Lawrence's follow-up book, Women in Love, was released in 1969, has a feature film version of The Rainbow out too. But his two-hour Rainbow pales before this one, thanks mainly to the casting of British stage actress Imogen Stubbs as the story's heroine, Ursula Brangwen (the movie stars Sammi Davis). Stubbs's feisty portrayal of a young, turn-of-the-century Englishwoman bucking society's norms, wanting, as she tells her recalcitrant father, "more than just housework and hanging about," is reminiscent of a young Julie Harris. It's hard to avoid being completely captivated by her aching desires to live life to its richest and fullest.

Despite its miniseries length, this Rainbow spans only the last third of Lawrence's 500-page book, which is set mostly in the rural English Midlands. Instead of chronicling three generations of the Brangwen family as the novel does, it concentrates on Ursula's coming-of-age, which mirrors the industrial revolution. Although not a lot happens plotwise, you won't be bored. Not for a minute. Ursula's inner turmoil, passionate curiosity ("I can hear the earth's heartbeat," she says, putting her ear to the ground), fury at the injustices of the capitalistic system and her unwillingness to compromise her independence for the love of a dashing soldier named Anton (Martin Wenner) make for a powerful character study.

Of course, one can see why the novel was originally suppressed and why this BBC adaptation, so true to the book, is being shown here with some scenes trimmed. Ursula's first lover is one of her schoolmistresses (Kate Buffery), a sophisticated blond predator who seduces her in a lake, at night, during a rainstorm. When Ursula and Anton finally make love—on a cliff overlooking the sea—their sexual fireworks could outshine the French bicentennial celebration.

Visually this Rainbow is intoxicating, with its shots of wildflowers and grasses—even white horses running across a hillside. The verdant countryside looks paradisaical, especially contrasted with grimy London, where Ursula gets a job teaching in a boys school that's as grim as anything Dickens ever came up with. Complementing the lush, sensual mood is Simon Rogers's original music score for harps and mandolins. But best of all is hearing Lawrence's lyrical words spoken by a proper British cast. Under Stuart Burge's evocative, sensitive direction (he did the BBC adaptation of Lawrence's Sons and Lovers), this mini Rainbow is an arc de triomphe. Parts Two and Three will be shown in consecutive weeks.

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