I have seen "The Boy Friend" many times and with each viewing I notice another level of intrigue to it. Literally, every frame is stuffed with information--in-jokes, clever asides, subtle foreshadowing of plot points. Russell makes it look easy as he sets up tier upon tier of plot/character while never losing sight of the joy of a musical, which is the grand production numbers.
The story begins with the arrival of the performers to the run-down theater where they are performing "The Boy Friend" for an audience that is smaller in number than the cast on stage. Twiggy's character "Polly" is an assistant manager who is forced to cover the role of the star of the show (an un-credited Glenda Jackson). Polly begins as a mousey dreamer and ends up stealing the show, and the leading man. Meanwhile everyone in the cast is trying to one-up one another to get the attention of one Mr. "DeThrill," a famous film director sitting in the box seat above the stage. There are double-crosses, mysteries, pratfalls, burlesque routines, romance and several memorable songs, leading to the expected happy ending. But the REAL reason to see the film involves the big production numbers.
Long before the movie version of "Chicago" popularized the effect, Ken Russell had his characters envisioning fantasy versions of the musical numbers on stage; where there was a sloppy crew of amateurs on a run-down stage with piano and drums for accompaniment in the "real" world, Russell used his plot device as an excuse for his characters to dream up wild, Busby Berkeley phantasmagorias that are not only visually spectacular but intrinsic to the storyline. Each number tops the last and is carried out with humor, confidence and excitement by the game cast.
The movie itself works not unlike Russell's later film "Tommy," as a series of inter-connected music videos (some claim his "Tommy" was the father of the modern music video). The film can be enjoyed on at least three levels: as a film about actors putting on a show, as a film of a show and as a series of wildly creative music videos. Most unique in Ken Russell's canon, it's a genuine "feel good" film that is (mostly) safe for all ages and a genuine good time from beginning to end.
Regardless, the film is so rich with detail it is impossible to get it all in one viewing and deserves to be studied. In fact, I did a college paper on the editing techniques of just one of the many numbers in the film, a scene involving hundreds of individual cuts.
I consider "The Boy Friend" an art film more than the fluffy entertainment it was pitched as and it saddens me that few people have ever "gotten" the work; it has never really gotten the appreciation it deserves.
"The Boy Friend" finally saw a release on DVD, at least from Warner's "on demand" service. The print they used isn't as good as it might be but it's better than nothing.
Aside from the release of some of Russell's films on DVD when he passed away in 2011 I fear the majority of his work is doomed to fade into obscurity, which is heartbreaking.