powered by AFI
DVDs from TCM Shop
Paul Morel, the sensitive son of a miner, lives with his father Walter and domineering mother Gertrude in a grim Northern England mining town. Walter, resigned to his life in the mines, resents Gertrude's encouragement of Paul's budding artistic talents and her insistence that their son take a lesser paying job above ground rather than follow in his father's path. Paul, who lives in an ethereal world of books and ideas, finds a soul mate in Miriam Leivers, a farmer's daughter whose puritanical mother has indoctrinated her with the idea that sex is dirty and meant only for procreation. When Arthur, Paul's miner brother, dies in a catastrophic collapse of a mine tunnel, his other brother William, who escaped the mines to work as a clerk in London, returns home for the funeral. After the burial, as William boards the train for London, he informs his mother that he plans to marry and shows her a photo of his fiancé, Louise Weston. Fearing that she will be displaced in William's affections by his new wife, Gertrude becomes depressed, and to cheer her up, Paul takes her to an art show in Nottingham, where one of his paintings in being exhibited. When Paul decides to have dinner with Miriam, the possessive Gertrude again feels threatened. Later, Walter, simmering with resentment over Gertrude's constant belittling, gets drunk and storms out of the house. The next day, Henry Hadlock, a patron of the arts who saw Paul's sketch at the show, comes to the Morel house and offers to send Paul to art school in London. Paul races off to share his good news with Miriam, but when he kisses her on the lips, she recoils in shame and fear, and Paul protests that Miriam is interested only in his spiritual side and therefore cannot accept him as a man. While Paul and Miriam struggle with their emotional needs, Walter returns home and drunkenly bellows at Gertrude and then locks her out of the house. When Paul returns home, he finds his mother stranded on the porch and breaks down the door. Gertrude then tearfully recalls her love for the dashing young Walter, a love that faded as Walter proved to be an irresponsible provider and a drunkard. Bound to his mother, Paul decides to forsake his opportunity in London and take a job at Jordan's Surgical Appliance factory instead. The next morning, Paul reports for work and meets Clara Dawes, the stunning young overseer who fiercely believes in women's rights and has thus separated from her husband Baxter, an employee at the factory. After work, Paul rides his bicycle to Miriam's farm and she finally lets him make love to her. Afterward, riddled with remorse, Paul regrets forcing Miriam to subjugate her body to him. At Christmas, William comes home with the empty-headed Louise, and confides to Paul that he loves Louise because she is the polar opposite of their mother. When Paul begins to question the permanency of love, he decides to break off his relationship with Miriam. Later, Paul sees Clara at a suffragette rally and becomes intrigued when she declares herself in favor of free love. Although his mother disapproves of Paul seeing a married woman, he begins to see Clara. One night, after Paul misses his train home, Clara invites him to stay at her mother's house. As Clara's mother frets about the lateness of the hour, sexual tension builds between Clara and Paul. After her mother finally goes to bed, Paul, haunted by his longing, sneaks downstairs and makes passionate love to Clara. As gossip of their relationship spreads throughout the factory, Baxter warns Paul to stay away from his wife. Later, Paul assures his mother that he will never marry as long as she is alive because no woman could ever take her place. When Paul and Clara leave for a seaside holiday, Walter, furious that his son is consorting with a married woman, blames Gertrude's overpossessiveness for ruining their son's life. Although Paul makes love to Clara with physical abandon, she senses that he is incapable of fully giving himself and that something is holding his back. When Paul returns home from his holiday, Baxter meets him at the train and pummels him in jealous anger. Upon reaching his house, Paul finds his mother resting in bed, frail and exhausted. The next day at the factory, Clara receives a message from Baxter notifying her that he has been injured, and when she hurries to his side, Paul realizes that she still loves her husband. As Gertrude's condition worsens, the doctor is summoned and diagnoses that she has suffered a heart attack, and that another attack will prove deadly. As they sit by Gertrude's beside, Walter expresses remorse over failing his wife, and Paul, ever solicitous of his mother, tries to deny her impending death. The next morning, Gertrude suffers a fatal heart attack and Paul reacts by cursing that his life is empty without his mother. Angered by Paul's self pity, Walter admonishes him to make something of himself as Gertrude had wanted. Later, Paul encounters Miriam in the woods and she tells him that she is going to London to become a teacher. When Miriam suggests that they marry so that she can protect him, Paul replies that he needs to be free and not belong to anyone because that is the only way he will know what it means to live.