British Director Ken Russell Dies at 84

Ken Russell - P 2011

The iconic filmmaker's death comes just as his controversial religious drama "The Devils" is readied for DVD release.

LONDON – Iconic British filmmaker Ken Russell has died aged 84.

Reports of his death broke across the Internet  early Monday in the U.K.

Russell’s friend, arts writer, novelist and columnist Norman Lebrecht, said a family friend told him of Russell’s death on Sunday morning. The filmmaker is reported to have died peacefully in his sleep.

Russell was a British director known for films that attracted controversy, were visually arresting and attracted a loyal following.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter during the Festival de Cannes in 2001, Russell jetted into the French festival billing himself as “the saviour of the British film industry.”

The charming eccentric held court before settling down to discuss what was one of his last film ventures, The Fall Of The Louse Of Usher, based on an original story by Edgar Allan Poe.

“I know I’ll be the laughing stock of the world but I don’t care. I’m due for a renaissance, so I’m going to launch my own with this film. It’s about time I became a cult,” Russell said at the time.

Just two weeks ago, his controversial religious drama The Devils, starring Oliver Reed and Vanessa Redgrave, had been scheduled for a DVD release, more than 40 years after it was made.

Russell’s film caused outrage among audiences and critics alike on its theatrical release after one of the longest-running battles with the BBFC was resolved.

The British Film Institute said it acquired the movie to release on DVD in its original ‘X’ certificate version. It will be released in March.

Reed and Redgrave star in the movie that won best director and best foreign film during the Venice Film Festival in 1971.

Based on John Whiting’s stage-play and Aldous Huxley’s novel, the film charts the 17th-century events that took place in the French city of Loudun.

Reed plays priest Urbain Grandier, and Redgrave is Sister Jeanne, whose erotic obsession with him fuels the hysterical fervour that sweeps through the convent.

Derek Jarman designed the sets and Peter Maxwell Davies composed the score for Russell’s depiction of the breakdown of civilization.

Russell’s filmmaking resume also boasts Women in Love, starring Alan Bates, Reed and Glenda Jackson, and Tommy, the rock opera featuring music by The Who.

Lebrecht, writing on his website, said of Russell: “Among many acheivements that spring to mind, he made British cinema less insular and self-concerned. He will be widely mourned.”