The Rainbow was D. H. Lawrence’s fourth novel and concludes with the sexual awakening of Ursula Brangwen, whose story was continued in Women in Love. The current film reps a prequel to director Ken Russell’s earlier one, in which Jennie Linden played Ursula, and Glenda Jackson won an Oscar as her sister Gudrun.
Concentrating on the last section of the novel, Russell charts the spasmodic, often brutal maturation of Ursula (Sammi Davis), a country girl at the turn of the century. Ursula’s very out-of-the-ordinary sexual initiation comes at the persuasive hands of her swimming instructor, the strikingly beautiful Winnifred (Amanda Donohoe), one of Lawrence’s patented free spirits.
Rebelling against her parents, Ursula moves to London to take a lowly position as a grade school teacher. Before long, she finds herself attracted to a man, the career soldier Anton (Paul McGann), who is mostly occupied fighting the Boer War. Despite the rough deflowering, Ursula’s feelings grow into love before coming to grips with her full nature and rushing off to the adventures that will be Women in Love.
The Rainbow finds Russell working in a most restrained, classical style. The director, who wrote the script with his wife Vivian, plainly identifies and sympathizes with his heroine’s fierce search for independence.
Davis, who came to the fore as the man-hungry teenager in Hope and Glory, throws herself into Ursula with all the physical and emotional energy she can muster. Donohoe is absolutely on the money as the liberated Winifred. McGann makes Anton too languid and remote to get excited about.