September 17, 2020  (Web Review)


Kino Lorber, 140 min., not rated, DVD: $19.95, Blu-ray: $29.95, Jun. 16

Reviewer rating: 3.0/4

Vanessa Redgrave nabbed an Oscar nomination for her compelling performance as free-spirited, Greek-inspired, avant-garde dancer Isadora Duncan (1877-1927) in this 1968 bio-pic from director Karel Reisz (The French Lieutenant’s Woman). Originally released with a near-three-hour running time and later re-cut twice, this version appears to be the 138-minute U.K. edition. The narrative—from a screenplay by Melvyn Bragg (featuring additional dialogue by novelist Margaret Drabble)—is set during Duncan’s last days (she died at 49 in a bizarre accident) with extended flashbacks chronicling a life that was full of scandal, triumph, and terrible tragedy. Redgrave is not a world-class dancer but she is a skilled actress and is able to successfully channel the spirit of Duncan’s wildly unconventional style onstage. Isadora’s professional career is tracked alongside her equally flamboyant personal life, particularly her relationships with three men: theatre designer Gordon Craig (James Fox); Paris Singer (Jason Robards), the “mountainously rich” sewing machine magnate; and Sergei Essenin (Ivan Tchenko), an abusive Russian poet. A beautifully lensed, intercontinentally-filmed epic, Isadora is somewhat choppy (among other significant omissions, the aftermath of Duncan’s marriage to Essenin is completely ignored), but it still enchants thanks to Redgrave’s commanding turn in the title role. Bowing on Blu-ray with a handsome transfer, extras include an audio commentary by filmmaker Allan Arkush and filmmaker/historian Daniel Kremer. Recommended. (R. Pitman)