Ken Russell's penultimate film for Monitor (subtitled 'Impressions of the French Composer') was originally planned as a feature film about Claude Debussy (1862-1918), though after the failure of his theatrical debut Fr...展开ench Dressing (1963) he ended up making it for television. Little else was sacrificed, as the 82-minute result (co-written by the young Melvyn Bragg) was easily his most ambitious film up to then, and still represents a career high point. This opinion was not shared by Debussy's estate, which initially prevented repeat screenings, though the composer's copyright has since expired.
The film operates on, and constantly switches between, three levels. First, there's the dramatised life story of Debussy and his stormy relationships with lovers, friends, colleagues and patrons. Then, there are visualisations of his music, along similar lines to those in Elgar (BBC, tx. 11/11/1962) and Béla Bartók (BBC, tx. 24/5/1964), beginning with a startling sequence in which a young woman, representing Saint Sebastian, is shot at point-blank range with arrows. And finally, there's the film within The Debussy Film, as an ambitious director attempts to capture the complexities of his subject while negotiating his actors' own turbulent relationships.