Zorba the Greek 1964 Based on the novel The Life and Times of Alexis Zorba by Nikos Katzantzakis. Directed by Michael Cacoyannis. Terrific film. Watch it for sheer life force.
Zorba (Anthony Quinn), a larger than life Greek peasant, attaches himself to Basil (Alan Bates), a conservative British writer (with Greek heritage), on the latter’s way to Crete where he’s inherited land and an old mine. Zorba rapidly becomes indispensable navigating village mores, reopening the mine (disastrous) and helping Basil learn to embrace life. Both men have love stories. Zorba’s with old, delusional Hortense (Lila Kedrova – wonderful – Best Supporting Actress Academy Award) is immensely touching. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Georgy Girl 1966 Based on the novel by Margaret Forster. Directed by Silvia Narizzano. Plain, overweight, naïve, sweet Georgina Parkin (Lynn Redgrave) has never had a boyfriend. Her flatmate Meredith (Charlotte Rampling) is everything she’s not – sexy, savvy, promiscuous, conceited, and treats Georgy like a servant. Jealous of Meredith’s relationship with Jos Jones (Alan Bates), the heroine is happy to fill in (and cover) for her when Meredith is gadding about with other men.
Georgy’s parents’ landlord, much older businessman James Leamington (James Mason) thinks she owes him for putting her through posh schools. He wants to marry the 22 year-old and offers a legal contract which the girl sadly considers. Meanwhile, Meredith gets pregnant and marries Jos out of boredom. Three of them occupy the flat until an emotional shift unexpectedly occurs. Lovely, understated film. Rent on Amazon Prime.
King of Hearts 1966 Directed by Phillipe de Broca. Wonderful film. At the end of WWI, Germans booby trap a small French town as they flee from allies. Citizenry exits en masse leaving only the inmates of an insane asylum who, having no authorities to check them, wander out occupying the town, each assuming a sympathetic identity in quirky fashion.
Charles Plumpick (Alan Bates), a bumbling, French born, Scottish officer replete with kilt, is sent by his commanding officer to find and disarm the bomb. He assumes inmates are the town’s actual (playful) citizens. Plumpick is crowned King and falls in love, but…the world is too much with them. Free on Cohen Media Channel Trial or rent on Amazon.
Far From the Madding Crowd 1967 Adapted from Thomas Hardy’s novel. Directed by John Schlesinger. The best version. Beautiful, independent Bathsheba Everdene (Julie Christie at the height of desirability) inherits her uncle’s farm and despite local custom, stubbornly means to run it herself. She hires neighbor/rejected suitor Gabriel Oak (Alan Bates) as her shepherd. Though treating him as beneath her in public, she increasingly depends on and is secretly attracted to him.
When Bathsheba impulsively sends a valentine to local gentleman farmer William Boldwood (Peter Finch), he assumes her intention is marriage. She toys with him as he grows lovesick. Neither of these men appeals to the heroine as much as swashbuckling cavalry sergeant and confirmed rake, Sergeant Frank Troy (Terrance Stamp), however. They wed. The soldier gambles away her money and alienates farm workers.
Gabriel attempts to help but is met only with anger from the now regretful Bathsheba. A pregnant maidservant tips the scales. There’s a provoked murder. Yes, it comes out well but not without a price. Notable for an erotic scene between Sergeant Troy and Bathsheba in which he flaunts his expert skills as a swordsman in a risky, private fencing display. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Women in Love 1970 Based on the DH Lawrence novel. Directed by Ken Russell. Steamy, romantic. In post WWI England, sisters, Ursula and Gudrun Brangwen (Jennie Linden and Glenda Jackson, the later Best Actress Academy Award) are respectively enamored of School Inspector Rupert Birkin (Alan Bates) and his best friend, rich landowner Gerald Crich (Oliver Reed). In graphic scenes of push/pull attraction and sensuality, Gerald and Rupert (further) bond, Ursula and Rupert marry, while Gudrun and Gerald’s relationship ends in violence and tragedy. Lawrence’s thoughts on the difficulty of traditional marriage are clear.
Screenwriter Larry Kramer said “slightly more than half the film” was directly from the novel. He took the rest from various sources including Lawrence’s letters, essays, poems and plays. The film features a famous nude wrestling scene between Bates and Reed. Kramer says Reed turned up to the shoot drunk and got Bates drunk. Watch free on Netflix.
Nijinsky 1980 Based on the dancer’s diaries and a biography written by his wife, Romola de Pulszky (ghosted by Lincoln Kerstein). Directed by Herbert Ross. Visuals are great, especially recreation of Ballet Russe sets, costumes, and glimpses of dance. George De La Pena as the dancer (ripe innocence, less believable madness) with Leslie Browne playing Romola, Alan Bates as Serge Diaghilev (bring back Anton Walbrook!), and Jeremy Irons in a prissy interpretation of choreographer Michel Fokine.
A Hollywood view focusing on Nijinsky’s relationship with Diaghilev and here, rapid descent into schizophrenia. Feeling judged and rejected, Diaghilev turns his back. In response, the dancer marries a cloying/devoted socialite, only to discover his mentor has not fallen out of love. This film leaves out Nikinky’s two daughters, a failed attempt to start his own company, a brief reunion tour with the Ballet Russe and one of South America – all before his ultimate breakdown. Nijinsky spent 30 years in asylums. Take it with a grain of salt. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Photo: Public domain publicity photo of Alan Bates for PBS TV show, “Piccadilly Circus”