Alan Morrison on

Delius: Song of Summer (1968)
Directed by Ken Russell
BFI DVD

For me this has to be the best thing Ken Russell ever did: a grittily shot, subtly scripted, didactic but inclusive TV film, telling an unusually nuanced story of the creatively heated relationship between the dying blind composer Frederick Delius (Max Adrian) and his diffident, self-effacing amanuensis – and amateur composer – Eric Fenby (Christopher Gable). It is in the dreamy, over-sensitive character of Fenby that Delius: Song of Summer really gripped me – actor/dancer Christopher Gable puts in a truly gripping, realistic performance as the young, sexually repressed Delius-devotee, who finds himself on a pilgrimage to aid his musical idol in scoring his final composition. Gable’s performance is exceptionally believable and endearing; an extremely convincing depiction of an ‘anxious young man’ narrowly dodging a nervous breakdown as he practically martyrs himself to the overwhelmingly domineering ego of a crippled composer touched by recrudescing genius. The scene in which Fenby quite candidly criticises one or two notes of Delius’s latest piece as he helps him articulate it on piano is fascinating in its distillation of the collaborative creative process between veteran and pupil, directed with a fly-on-the-wall realism. Almost hilarious – though darkly so – is Fenby’s confession near the end of the film as to his suffering a complete nervous breakdown after his sister’s welcome home party on his return to a mundane life in Bradford. This is a fascinating television play and well worth owning and re-watching. It is as witty as it is intense, and is also a compelling and all-too-rare example of (the late) Christopher Gable’s unique acting talent.

Alan Morrison © 2008