There are straightforward arts documentaries and then there’s DH Lawrence: Sex, Exile and Greatness (Sky Arts), a resolutely fibrous plod through the life and works of the author, which made me feel like I was at school again, desperately taking notes.
Born in 1885. Right. Dad was a drunk collier. Got it. Became a teacher. Ok. Stopped being a teacher. Ok… Every now and then a Methodist-looking professor in a shirt would pop up to quietly talk about sexual anguish or Freudian psychological despair, but, as if afraid of its own racy subject matter, the film took on the air of a Victorian schoolmaster daring his class to snigger at the rude bits in The Bible. Never has passion been rendered so passionless.
As Lawrence wrote: “We’ve denied the life of our bodies, so they, our bodies, deny life to us.” My, if ever a documentary needed to borrow a bit of oomph from its subject, it was this one.
It focused mainly on Lawrence’s relationships and how they fed into his works – a failed early romance became Miriam and Paul in Sons and Lovers, the sexual liberation Lawrence found with his wife, Frieda, was channelled into Lady Chatterley’s Lover.