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UK, 1968 (MIFF 2000, Sensational Symphonies – The Unseen Ken Russell)

Director: Ken Russell

One of Russell's most popular television works, inspired by Eric Fenby's memoir Delius As I Knew Him. The film centres upon the blind and paralysed composer Frederick Delius (Max Adrian), living out his final years in the French countryside with his ever-patient wife, Jelka. He has a stormy relationship with the sensitive and seemingly egoless Fenby, an impoverished music student and cinema organist (in the opening scene we see Fenby improvising on a theatre organ to Laurel and Hardy on screen) who offered his services to help the self-absorbed invalid realise his thwarted artistic ambitions.

The film chronicles the daily routine of the household as the cantankerous Delius attempts to convey his musical ideas by dictation to Fenby. Fenby, who would later compose the score for Alfred Hitchcock's Jamaica Inn, subjugated his own musical ambitions in the service of what Russell describes as "an ideal and a talent he thought greater than his own".

David Codings contributes a delightful cameo as ebullient composer and athletic ball of energy, Percy Grainger. Historical accuracy is adhered to but there is an obvious quest for a deeper emotional truth as we witness an artistic sensibility at war with various self-destructive neuroses. Fenby was at his bedside when the composer finally died of syphilis in 1934.

"It's a love affair and a death affair; it's one personality feeding on another; a person saving another and being destroyed for his trouble.'—Ken Russell

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