Salome’s Last Dance (1988)

Rating: B+

Dir: Ken Russell
Star: Imogen Millais-Scott, Stratford Johns, Glenda Jackson, Nickolas Grace

Quite, quite barking mad, and all the better for it, this low-budget film is a great example of what happens when you give a true auteur free rein. For this has everything imaginable, from Page 3 girls to Oscar-winning actresses, via Wolf from Gladiators, with Russell himself playing a photographer, and lead actress Millais-Scott more or less blind, due to illness, during filming. It’s mostly an adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s play, Salome, telling the story of the notorious Biblical femme fatale – though it was banned in the UK at the time of its authorship in the 1890’s, on the ground that it was illegal to depict characters from the Bible.

This is framed as a performance given to honour Wilde (Grace), by the owner (Johns) and staff of his favourite brothel, with his lover Lord Alfred Taylor taking on the role of John the Baptist. However, the performers and audience bleed together over the course of the evening, which ends with the police raiding the venue. It’s a quintessentially British production, that both makes fun or and pay loving tribute to its subject, occupying territory somewhere between a Carry On film and the Royal Shakespeare Company. 25 years later, and I’ve still not seen anything like Millais-Scott’s performance. At times, she’s almost singing her lines, yet at others delivers them in a virtual monotone.

It’s a discordant performance, completely at odds with the likes of Johns, who appears to be auditioning for the role of Widow Twankey at Wimbledon Theatre, while there’s a running joke involving Jackson and flatulence. There’s no possible way this could work. Yet it does, glued together by Russell’s… ah, let’s say, “unique” vision, as well as a soundtrack that covers Debussy to Mussorgsky, and suitably decadent production design. If perhaps less of an outright hoot than Lair of the White Worm [which I now want to re-watch as well], it still demonstrates why Russell was a truly eccentric genius, and is sadly missed. I know of no-one quite like him, making movies these days.

Original review [3] Rampant camp version of Oscar Wilde’s banned play, set in a London brothel on Guy Faukes’ night. Never been much of a fan of Mr Wilde (too witty by half), fortunately we don’t see much of him. Instead we get Johns as Herod and Jackson as his wife mixing it with midget Jews, page 3 models for guards and a highly-impressive Millais-Scott as a lollipop-licking, high-heeled Salome who resembles Bonnie Langford on cocaine. Very, very odd, definitely trashy and strong evidence for Ken Russell’s insanity! 8/10