Mahler (film)

Mahler is a 1974 biographical film based on the life of Austro-Bohemian composer Gustav Mahler. It was written and directed by Ken Russell for Goodtimes Enterprises, and starred Robert Powell as Gustav Mahler and Georgina Hale as Alma Mahler. The film was entered into the 1974 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Technical Grand Prize.[4]

Original poster for Spanish version of Mahler
Directed byKen Russell
Produced byRoy Baird
Written byKen Russell
StarringRobert Powell
Georgina Hale
Lee Montague
Music byGustav Mahler
Richard Wagner
CinematographyDick Bush
Edited byMichael Bradsell
Distributed byMayfair Films (U.S.)
Visual Programme Systems Ltd. (UK)
Release date
24 October 1974 (Belgium)
February 1975 (U.S.)
Running time
115 min
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget£193,000[1] or £168,000[2] [3]


After a spectacular prelude, the film begins on a train journey with Gustav Mahler (Robert Powell) and his wife Alma (Georgina Hale) confronting their failing marriage. The story is then recounted in a series of flashbacks (some of which are surrealistic and nightmarish), taking one through Mahler's childhood, his brother's suicide, his experience with antisemitism, his conversion from Judaism to Catholicism, his marital problems, and the death of his young daughter. The film also contains a surreal fantasy sequence involving the anti-Semitic Cosima Wagner (Antonia Ellis), widow of Richard Wagner, whose objections to his taking control of the Court Opera were supposedly removed by his conversion to Catholicism. In the process, the film explores Mahler's music and its relationship to his life.

Some outdoor sections of the film were made in Borrowdale, in the English Lake District.


The music score of the movie consists of recordings by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Bernard Haitink.


David Puttnam's company Goodtimes planned to make a series of six films about composers, all to be directed by Ken Russell. Subjects were to include Franz Liszt, George Gershwin and Vaughan Williams; they decided to do Mahler first. The National Film Finance Corporation removed its support prior to filming meaning Puttnam had to slash the budget from £400,000 to £180,000.[5] Russell says Puttnam had no creative input into the film in contrast with their next collaboration, Lisztomania.[6]


According to one account, by 1985 the film had recorded a net loss of £14,000.[1] However Sandy Lieberson of Goodtimes said "the film sold everywhere and made a tidy profit."[7] Russell also said the film made a profit but claimed in 1991 he had never seen any of his share.[8]


  1. Alexander Walker, National Heroes: British Cinema in the Seventies and Eighties, Harrap, 1985 p 83
  2. Russell on his films Hunter, Charles. The Irish Times 2 Nov 1987: 14.
  3. Russell p 167
  4. "Festival de Cannes: Mahler". Retrieved 26 April 2009.
  5. Yule p 49-50
  6. Russell p 167
  7. Yule p 51
  8. Russell p 168


  • Russell, Ken (1991). Altered States. Bantam.
  • Yule, Andrew (1989). Fast fade : David Puttnam, Columbia Pictures, and the battle for Hollywood. Delacorte Press.
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