Savage Messiah is the 1972 biopic of the artist and sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska. Directed by the late eccentric filmmaker Ken Russell, the piece documents the vivacious but ultimately short life of the French sculptor. Gaudier-Brzeska is best known for his primitive, early-Modern statues which now reside in some of the greatest collections in the world. He exchanged many letters with his lover, Sophie Brzeska, and it was these missives that formed the basis of the published biography which Russell adapted.
The two lead roles are played with great gusto by Dorothy Tutin and Scott Antony. Their complex, firey, sibling-like realtionship drives the piece, although on some occasions their bohemian antics are rather more theatrical than lifelike. Sophie Brzeska was twice Henri's age when they met, and Tutin does a magnificent job of articulating the pain that the older woman feels when the age-gap becomes an issue.
As the film progresses the couple travel from garrets in Paris to exotic bohemian clubs and subterranean studios in London. Russell enlisted Derek Jarman as set designer, who has done a solid job of scene-setting. However, the sets are not quite as magnificent as those featured in the pair's previous collaboration on The Devils (1971). On that note, Russell had become the 'bad boy' of British film with The Devils, with the on-set nudity, rumors of sexual exploits and blatant anti-religious themes inflaming critics' tempers. One gets the impression he was playing it safe with Savage Messiah, and perhaps trying to regain some of the high-brow reputation he had won with earlier works like Women in Love and The Music Lovers.