The Music Lovers (1971) - Rotten Tomatoes

The Music Lovers (1971)

The Music Lovers




Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

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Movie Info

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky is given the Ken Russell treatment in The Music Lovers, which means that there is plenty of music, plenty of passion, plenty of debauchery, and plenty of excess. Tame by Russell's later standards (Lisztomania), The Music Lovers nevertheless thrives on creative and sexual anguish. Richard Chamberlain plays Tchaikovsky with a bug-eyed intensity as a composer consumed by his art -- so consumed that his romantic attachments become bisexual and irrational. He falls in love with Nina (Glenda Jackson), the hysterical trollop he marries with dire consequences. As he explodes emotionally, his public performance of Piano Concerto in B flat minor becomes a cue for flashbacks to a series of discomforting childhood events that suggest incestuous relations with his sister. Back in real time, Tchaikovsky has to deal with Nina's outbursts while juggling his homosexual urges and his almost hidden desire for Count Anton Chiluvsky (Christopher Gable). The film also details the curious relationship between Tchaikovsky and his rich patroness, the middle-aged widow Madame Nadedja von Meck (Isabella Telezynska), who loves Tchaikovsky deeply, but refuses to meet him -- their only communication being through letters, even though he lives on her estate. Andre Previn and the London Symphony Orchestra perform Tchaikovsky's music. ~ Paul Brenner, Rovimore
Rating: R
Genre: Musical & Performing Arts, Drama
Directed By:
In Theaters:
United Artists


Richard Chamberlain
as Peter Tchaikovsky
Glenda Jackson
as Antonina Milyukova
Max Adrian
as Nicholas Rubinstein
Christopher Gable
as Count Anton Chiluvsk...
Isabella Telezynska
as Mme. Nadedja von Mec...
Kenneth Colley
as Modest Tchaikovsky
Alain Dubreuil
as Prince Siegfried in ...
Maggie Maxwell
as Queen in "Swan Lake"
Ernest Bale
as Headwaiter
Ben Aris
as Young Lieutenant
Imogen Claire
as Lady in White
Alexander Russell
as Mme. Von Meck's Gran...
Georgina Parkinson
as Odile in "Swan Lake"
Graham Armitage
as Prince Balukin
Alexei Jawdokimov
as Dimitri Shubelov
Peter White
as Von Rothbart in "Swa...
Maureen Pryor
as Nina's Mother
Joanne Brown
as Olga Bredska
Show More Cast

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Critic Reviews for The Music Lovers

All Critics (12) | Top Critics (4)

Whole stretches of images seem pushed and pulled along before our eyes by projected desires and anxieties.

Full Review… | April 30, 2012
Village Voice
Top Critic

Totally irresponsible as a film about, or inspired by, or parallel to, or bearing a vague resemblance to, Tchaikovsky, his life and times. It is not, however, a complete failure.

Full Review… | April 30, 2012
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic

This Ken Russell fantasia-musical biography as wet dream-hangs together more successfully than his other similar efforts, thanks largely to a powerhouse performance by Glenda Jackson, one actress who can hold her own against Russell's excess.

Full Review… | September 18, 2003
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

Full Review… | February 23, 2012
Top Critic

Chamberlain gives a surprisingly good performance.

Full Review… | April 24, 2013
Ozus' World Movie Reviews

Ken Russell's biopic of the legendary composer is distorted and excessive, but it's worth seeing.

Full Review… | June 16, 2012

Audience Reviews for The Music Lovers

Two quotes, two different films from 1971, the same critic: Alexander Walker, late of the London Evening Standard. 1) "I think it's a great film; I think it's one of the most important films ever made in this country." 2) "It looked like the masturbation fantasies of a Roman Catholic boyhood." The films in question? Respectively, Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange and Ken Russell's The Devils. Now, as far as the quotes go, I completely disagree with the first and broadly concur with the second, with the proviso that "masturbation fantasies" need not inherently be devoid of artistic merit, as Walker implies. What on Earth has this to do with The Music Lovers? Don't worry, I'm getting to it...

What I believe these quotes demonstrate very well is the critical snobbery and hypocrisy which dogged Ken Russell throughout his career. If you watch Dance of the Seven Veils, the biopic of Richard Strauss which brought Russell's dazzling tenure at the BBC to a controversial close in 1970, you will not fail to notice a reference to Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. What I would argue is that, with A Clockwork Orange, Kubrick returned the compliment. With its army of grotesques, its leering, hallucinatory camerawork, the overarching campness of the whole production and - most tellingly - with its ultraviolence set to classical music, A Clockwork Orange resembles nothing so much as Ken Russell-lite. I simply cannot believe that Russell's work had no direct influence on Kubrick's movie - I will even stick my neck out and say that Russell in his prime would have made a better fist of it - so for Alexander Walker to dismiss Russell's oeuvre as garbage and embrace its progeny as a masterpiece is film criticism at its most maddeningly disingenuous.

While The Music Lovers, Russell's biography of Tchaikovsky, certainly does not represent this director at the height of his powers, it's nowhere near as terrible as the detractors would have you believe. The film contains flashes of brilliance, some stunning visual coups and, amidst all the vulgarity and excess, one or two lovely quiet moments. My favourite scene is probably the one in which Tchaikovsky (Richard Chamberlain), his wife Nina (Glenda Jackson) and his jilted lover, the Count Chiluvsky (Christopher Gable), watch a performance of Swan Lake and the Count wistfully summarises the plot of the ballet for the benefit of his oblivious rival. For the best of Russell on the big screen, check out Women in Love, The Devils, The Boy Friend, Savage Messiah and Mahler. God Bless you, Ken, for dragging British cinema out of the Kitchen Sink.

Stephen M

Super Reviewer


Florid and excessive which is standard for Russell's films. The music of course is brilliant.

jay nixon

Super Reviewer

If you are unfamiliar with Ken Russell, you maybe a bit shocked by the over-the-top approach taken in the tragic telling of Tchaikovsky and Antonia Milyukova -- but this is actually a restrained Ken Russell. And, Glenda Jackson is brilliant. Beautifully filmed and truly passionate filmmaking. A bit unbridled, but worth it.

Matty Stanfield
Matty Stanfield

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