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Savage Messiah is a 1972 British biographical film of the life of French sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, made by Russ-Arts and distributed by MGM. It was directed and produced by Ken Russell, with Harry Benn as associate producer, from a screenplay by Christopher Logue, based on the book Savage Messiah by H. S. Ede. Much of the content of Ede's book came from letters sent between Henri Gaudier-Brzeska and his lover Sophie Brzeska.

Savage Messiah
"Savage Messiah" (1972).jpg
Directed byKen Russell
Produced byKen Russell
Written byChristopher Logue
Based onbook by H. S. Ede
StarringDorothy Tutin
Scott Antony
Helen Mirren
Music byMichael Garrett
CinematographyDick Bush
Edited byMichael Bradsell
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
  • September 1972 (1972-09)
Running time
103 min.
CountryUnited Kingdom

The musical score was by Michael Garrett (though music by Claude Debussy, Alexander Scriabin, and Sergei Prokofiev was also used), and the cinematography by Dick Bush. The sets were designed by Derek Jarman.[2]




The film was based on the biography by Jim Ede, who had discovered the story while working at the Tate Gallery. It was published in 1931.[3]

The book was admired by Ken Russell who said "it will ever be an inspiration to anyone down on their luck with a belief in their own talent, despite the hostility of those who should know better. Here was a tale worth telling on film... although for years it seemed to be nothing but a pipe dream."[4]

Russell had made a number of films about artists, mostly for television, starting with Two Scottish Painters. His success with feature films such as Women in Love encouraged him to turn the book into a feature.[5]

Russell says because the film was about an artist it was considered an "art film" and was difficult to finance. "I ended up double mortgaging my house and finding most of the money himself," he later wrote. "There was a chance I'd end up on the street but I felt I owed Gaudier something. It would have been so easy to go into my father's business and opted for the easy life but Gaudier taught me there was a life outside commerce and it was well worth fighting for."[6]

Russell said the project "was austere and simple... my least glamorous film. I was satiated with flamboyance."[1] He said "I wanted to show artists as workers not people who live in ivory towers."[7] Russell later wrote "it was about passion and sweat... it was about revolution and fuck the art dealers."[8]

He gave the lead roles to Dorothy Tutin, one of Britain's top stage actresses, and Scott Antony, a newcomer from drama school. Russell said Anthony "was chosen out of 300 actors I saw because he was the only one I thought could pick up a hammer and hit a stone. Being an artist is a physical thing."[1]

The production designer was Derek Jarman who had worked on The Devils and who Russell called "the last true bohemian."[9] Some of the budget was provided by the Lee brothers, who also let Russell use their studio.

Russell arranged distribution through MGM, for whom he had just made The Boy Friend. "My deal with MGM is that they'll show my version for three weeks at least," he said just before the film was released. "Then they can hack it up."[1]


According to Rex Reed the film was a "tremendous hit with audiences" at the Venice Film Festival although not with critics.[10]

The Los Angeles Times said the film was "utterly unconvincing."[11]

Russell said the film was "just two people talking". He said it and Song of Summer helped get him the job of directing Altered States because it showed he could handle actors.[12]


  • Dilys Powell "The sorcerer's apprentice" (film review in The Sunday Times; 17 Sept. 1972)
  • Richard Combs "Savage Messiah" (review) in: Monthly Film Bulletin; 1972, p. 217
  • Russell, Ken (1991). Alternate States. Bantam Books.


  1. ^ a b c d Mills, Bart (16 July 1972). "Looking at the London Movie Scene". New York Times. p. D20.
  2. ^ SAVAGE MESSIAH Monthly Film Bulletin; London Vol. 39, Iss. 456, (Jan 1, 1972): 217.
  3. ^ GENIUS DRIVEN BY LOVE: "Savage Messiah" Tells Strange Story of Gaudier, Sculptor in Thrall to Querulous Woman Ford, Lillian C. Los Angeles Times 8 Mar 1931: 26.
  4. ^ Russell p 87
  5. ^ Russell p 88
  6. ^ Russell p 88
  7. ^ Vogue Movies: Coolers, Chillers/Dorothy Tutin Vogue; New York Vol. 160, Iss. 4, (Sep 1, 1972): 194.
  8. ^ Russell p 89
  9. ^ Russell p 89
  10. ^ REX REED REPORTS: Two films buoy sinking gondola of Venice festival Reed, Rex. Chicago Tribune 17 Sep 1972: l7.
  11. ^ MOVIE REVIEW: Portrait of Artist as an Odd Couple Thomas, Kevin. Los Angeles Times 20 Oct 1972: d18.
  12. ^ I thought I was all washed up The Guardian 9 July 1981: 13.

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