Elgar (film)

Elgar is a drama documentary made in 1962 by the British director Ken Russell. Made for BBC Television's long-running Monitor programme, it dramatised in vigorous style the life of the archetypically English composer Sir Edward Elgar.

GenreDrama Documentary
Written byKen Russell
Huw Wheldon
Directed byKen Russell
StarringGeorge McGrath
Peter Brett
Rowena Gregory
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original language(s)English
Producer(s)Humphrey Burton
Camera setupKen Higgins
Running time56 minutes
Original networkBBC
Original release11 November 1962 (1962-11-11)

The film established Russell as a directorial talent, and spawned a series of dramatised biographies of composers by Russell, both for cinema and television. Elgar helped to revive the reputation of the composer's work.[1][2]

In the words of one writer, the film "marks the debut of both a great and original visual stylist (Russell) and the first use of techniques that have since become almost commonplace in the realm of documentary filmmaking."[3]

The film was narrated by Huw Wheldon. The British Film Institute selected it as one of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes.


  • George McGrath (Sir Edward Elgar)
  • Peter Brett (Mr Elgar)
  • Rowena Gregory (Mrs Elgar)
  • Louisa Nicholas (Elgar's daughter)


The acclaim led to Russell being offered his first feature French Dressing.[4] It also prompted a revival in interest in Elgar's work, leading to albums being released.[5]

By 1966 it was being called "a classic of television which time will not touch."[6]

In 1995 the Globe and Mail wrote that:

What is singularly striking about Elgar is how beautifully photographed and composed it is. Though shot in black and white, the use of light and the brilliant blending of images and glorious music makes most of what we are used to seeing on the tube and (movie screen) seem flat and unimaginative. Russell's training and previous work as a photographer is shown to great advantage in this exquisite film. He also pioneers the use of actors, without dialogue and with minimal narration, to create a "new" form, a cinematic hybrid utilizing the most powerful aspects of several artistic forms: film, music, biography, television and photography.[3]

Reviewing the production in 2011, the New Yorker wrote that "most of it is glorious, with reënactment scenes that might easily have tipped into Monty Python territory redeemed by their intimate connection to the musical excerpts on the soundtrack. This is because Russell, like no other filmmaker, has an essential insight into what goes into a composer’s life, strung between play and work, dreaming and drudgery."[2]


  1. Ken Russell
  2. Platt, Russell (29 November 2011). "Ken Russell: The Rare Director Who Understood Musical Greatness". New Yorker.
  3. TELEVISION An edifying Elgar: Ken Russell revisited JOHN HASLETT CUFF. The Globe and Mail9 Jan 1995: C.1.
  4. The Eisenstein file: LEE LANGLEY describes Ken Russell's work on the Deighton thriller, "Billion Dollar Brain" Langley, Lee. The Guardian 26 Oct 1967: 8.
  5. BRIEFING/WHO & WHY: Fruitful beldame The Observer 26 June 1966: 23.
  6. TRAPPED on BBC-1 Crogier, Mary. The Guardian 27 June 1966: 9.

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