The cinema of Ken Russell
: social class, spatial analysis and the long sixties

  • Kevin Fullerton

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Ken Russell’s relationship with buildings, cityscapes and interior spaces remains an underexplored topic. This is despite many of his early segments for the BBC arts programme Monitor (1958-1965) regularly discussing architecture; his Oscar-winning feature Women in Love (1969) helping to establish the aesthetics of British ‘heritage’ cinema, and its fascination with stately homes; and the imposing, deliberately anachronistic brutalist structures he created for The Devils (1971) in collaboration with set designer Derek Jarman. This thesis aims not only to redress this balance, but to show how Russell’s use of architecture, cityscapes, interior spaces, and the pastoral is vitally linked with a more commonly discussed theme in his work, the class system. It will focus on close analyses of Russell’s work during the long 1960s and provide a precis of social class and architectural history up to the 1960s. In doing so, this project will demonstrate how Russell sometimes echoed, but mainly deviated from the prevailing orthodoxies in Britain, particularly those which were also being challenged by his peers utilising Britain’s then-dominant mode of filmmaking, social realism. Using urban depth theory and habitus as its core theoretical frameworks, it will explore how Russell’s use of space emphasises themes of freedom, alienation and class turmoil.

Each chapter will examine Russell’s approach to the class system through buildings and space, beginning with the working classes, the middle classes, and then upper classes. The final chapter will then synthesise this research into an analysis of Russell’s The Devils, viewing it as the apotheosis of his use of architecture to examine the intricacies of the class system. By shedding new light on this hitherto underexplored element of Russell’s work, this thesis will demonstrate how his films are intricately related to the class structures of their era, and how his love of architecture informs his films’ mise-en-scène in a manner comparable to the Weimar-era silent cinema he revered.
Date of Award2023
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorBrian Hoyle (Supervisor) & Jason Hartford (Supervisor)


  • Ken Russell
  • Cinema
  • Film Studies
  • British Cinema
  • 1960s Cinema
  • Architecture
  • Spatial Analysis
  • Habitus
  • Urban Depth

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