There is frequently, but not always, a thin line between genius and madness. By going over that line and unduly emphasizing the mad and the perverse in their biopic of the 19th-century Russian composer Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, producer-director Ken Russell and scripter Melvyn Bragg lose their audience. The result is a motion picture that is frequently dramatically and visually stunning but more often tedious and grotesque.
Richard Chamberlain, bushy-bearded and eyes constantly brimming with tears, plays the homosexual, irrationally romantic composer, and Glenda Jackson the neurotic trollop he tragically marries. Their performances are more dramatically bombastic than sympathetic, or sometimes even believable.
Instead of a Russian tragedy, Russell seems more concerned with haunting the viewers’ memory with shocking scenes and images. The opportunity to create a memorable and fluid portrait of the composer has been sacrificed for a musical Grand Guignol.
Christopher Gable plays Count Anton Chiluvsky, presumably Chamberlain’s true love, as a faun-eyed social butterfly; Izabella Telezynska is the composer’s patroness, a wealthy middle-aged widow who loves him but whose own romantic fantasies demand that they never meet but merely correspond by letter, although he lives in luxury on her estate.