Vulgar, excessive, melodramatic and self-indulgent: Tchaikovsky's music is indeed all of these things, yet gloriously so, and the same goes for Ken Russell at his freewheeling best. The director's first composer biopic for the cinema approaches Tchaikovsky's scores as the expression of extreme emotional turmoil. The drama is at fever pitch throughout, from Peter's disturbing recollections of his mother's painful demise, through fear of exposure of his homosexuality to his misguided cover marriage to social-climbing Antonina Milyukova. Chamberlain doesn't quite have the range required in the central role, though his keyboard skills are impressive, even if it's soloist Rafael Orozco we hear on the soundtrack, while Glenda Jackson is at her most physically committed as the ill-fated Antonina. The whirling camera, mercurial cutting and fantasy interludes capture the music's heady mood swings. It's not subtle, but it is all of a piece.
Cast and crew