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Priest of Love

Directed by Christopher Miles
Screenplay by Alan Plater

Starring Ian McKellen, Janet Suzman, Ava Gardner, John Gielgud, and Sarah Miles

Opened 11 October 1981 in US, January 1982 in UK

Ian McKellen Video Online: Priest of Love


He was D.H. Lawrence.  She was Lady Chatterley and all his great heroines. Their extraordinary romance was more tempestuous than any he wrote.


"Everything about this bio-pic aimed for authenticity – we filmed on many of the actual locations that were visited by the Lawrences and their friends and most of the cast managed to look not unlike their originals. At our first meeting, Christopher Miles was very taken that, like D.H. Lawrence, I have blue eyes. I also shared his oval-shaped face. Once my beard grew I looked enough like him (also like his contemporaries the young Bernard Shaw, Sigmund Freud and Tsar Nicholas II!) By Lake Guarda, an old lady who had served breakfast to the honeymooning Lawrences 65 years previously took one look at me in costume and make-up and rewarded me with a huge smile of recognition: 'Lorenzo!'

"The true authenticity was in the dialogue invented by Alan Plater, and based on factual episodes culled from Harry T. Moore’s biography 'A Priest of Love.' At the pre-filming cast party in Mayfair at the home of Stanley Seger, the film’s financer, I asked Plater, sitting quietly in a corner, what Lawrence would do at such a gathering. 'Oh, just sit quietly in a corner,' he said." – Ian McKellen, August 1999

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Shouting on the steps of the temple at "Monte Alba," just outside Oaxaca.
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Newspaper Advertisement, 1982

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Frieda (Janet Suzman) and D. H. Lawrence (Ian McKellen) journeying by train to New Mexico

"My hair was dyed auburn; like Lawrence’s own my moustache and beard were augmented by some false hair around the chin."

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Mabel Dodge Luhan (Ava Gardner) awaits Lawrence’s arrival in New Mexico


"I flew out alone to Oaxaca in Mexico, our first location, and was shown up to my hotel suite overlooking the valley surrounded by a distant mountain range . The dusk was pierced by lights twinkling in the town where D.H.Lawrence had stayed and written. Through the fronds of the palms on a level with my verandah, the swimming-pool reflected the fading blue of the sky. A lone bather in a bright green one-piece was breast-stroking in my direction. She waved. 'Hello Ian!' It was Ava Gardner and I felt I was in Hollywood.


"We had met at Stanley’s party for the cast two weeks earlier. She wore little makeup and her soft, light brown hair fell wispily against her pale celebrated cheekbones. She wasn’t perhaps physically strong and lived in semi-retirement in South Kensington. I knew from her neighbour Charles Gray, that she liked cards and liquor. And, I gathered, men – she flirted playfully, offering fun and a good time rather than sex. After a couple of drinks, she had kicked off her shoes and danced to music that Stanley had written for the film.

"Christopher Miles told me she was tempted back to work by Janet Suzman and me, whom she knew by reputation rather than by having seen our work. Certainly she never passed a compliment and although she was intimate in the way actors need to be if they are to act convincingly together, we never got to know each other well. Most evenings she ate with her maid in her room, whilst the rest of us explored Oaxaca’s monuments and nightlife. This, most memorably, was eating al fresco in the town square while the brass band oom-pah-ed through 'The William Tell Overture,' more slowly than it has ever been played anywhere in the world."

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