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But the Roeg film most completely bound up in the erotic is this often intensely disturbing psychological drama about the obsessive affair between Art Garfunkel’s psychiatrist and Theresa Russell’s married client.
As a by-product of an unusually intense shoot, Roeg married his leading lady.
There are no direct equivalents of Borowczyk, Brass, Franco or Radley Metzger in British cinema (the hardcore pornographer Ben Dover has different priorities), and serious British films about eroticism remain as rare as the more exotic butterflies on display in Strickland’s film, despite the considerable relaxation in censorship post-2000 – Michael Winterbottom’s 9 Songs (2004) being the British film most notorious for taking full advantage of this.
So the following 10 films are at least as much illustrations of social and historical trends as they are defining examples of cinematic eroticism in their own right.
When the British Board of Film Censors (as was) agreed to pass a serious documentary about naturism in the mid-1950s, this gave an immediate green light to numerous similar “documentaries’ by shamelessly opportunist producers who took care to adhere to BBFC guidelines (“Breasts and buttocks, but not genitalia [would be accepted] provided that the setting was recognisable as a nudist camp or nature reserve”). Lawrence creations bookended the 1960s: the obscenity trial of Lady Chatterley’s Lover in 1963 (the year in which Philip Larkin alleged that sexual intercourse began) and the international hit that Ken Russell made of Women in Love, thanks not least to one of the most notorious scenes in all British cinema, in which Alan Bates and Oliver Reed engage in full-frontally naked wrestling on a rug in front of an open fire to underscore their characters’ latent homoeroticism.
This effort by photographer-turned-filmmaker George Harrison Marks came relatively late in the cycle, but retains a fond following thanks to its catchy title and a genuinely charming performance by model-turned-actor Pamela Green. But there was also a powerful sensuality emanating from Glenda Jackson’s Oscar-winning performance as the wayward Gudrun.
Or indeed by the effect that it had on its audience?
After all, it’s arguable that the appeal of 1940s Gainsborough melodramas was far more genuinely erotic than that of the inexplicably long-running Come Play with Me (1977) and its fusion of ancient music-hall routines with only very mildly titillating nudity.
Most were neither sexy nor funny, and this one isn’t particularly erotic either, but it does cast a keenly satirical eye on how the sex-film business was run at the time, with wide-eyed ingénues on both sides of the camera and a plot that contrives multiple adaptations of the notoriously filthy poem to please different backers: hardcore porn, a gay western, a kung-fu musical and a family-friendly compromise.If Intimacy (2001) garnered most of the column inches for its unsimulated fellatio scene, it was The Mother that offered the most complex take on its subject, as its middle-aged grandmother May (Anne Reid in a memorably fearless performance) tries to conquer bereavement-triggered grief through an affair with her daughter’s boyfriend (Daniel Craig).Three years later, a Speedo-clad Craig would be globally promoted as an image of erotic allure via the publicity for Casino Royale (2006).This was obvious nonsense, but if you add the word ‘erotic’ to ‘cinema’ you create a proposition that’s harder to deny.Despite two of the stronger commercial genres in British cinema history being the 1950s naturist ‘documentary’ and the 1970s softcore sex comedy, it says much about the cultural repression of the time that anyone ever found them especially erotic.