Because Paul's mother views Miriam as a threat to her control, she continually puts her down by remarking that Miriam doesn't just want his love - she'll want his soul. This is partly true since Miriam has been brought up by a truly god-fearing mother (the sort that thinks that we've only been put upon this Earth to suffer) who has emotionally crippled her. Real, physical love holds such fear and disgust for her that she can only love Paul spiritually. The Morel household is hardly free of these emotional wounds; when Arthur is killed in a mining accident, the repressed torment of years comes bubbling to the surface. Walter, a fundamentally decent man, has been made to feel like a second-class citizen by his wife, purely because of her ambition to make her sons better themselves (even though he's the one who brings in the money). She has achieved some success with William (William Lucas) who has escaped the mines and works in London, but her real target is Paul.
It seems that Paul will achieve his ambitions when a rich patron is impressed by his work and offers to send him to art college. However, Paul is unable to make the break from his mother and rejects the offer (while she chides him for this she is secretly pleased by his devotion). Unfortunately his relationship with Miriam has come to a bitter end and Paul ends up working in a clothing store. Love works in strange ways though and he finds himself almost immediately attracted to his supervisor, Clara Dawes (Mary Ure). She is a suffragette, separated from her husband, but finds herself reciprocating his affection. This is a relationship where physical love is free and the only bounds are the disapproving words of their neighbours, which are more troublesome than they might appear. Paul's mother disapproves, of course, but maybe this time he'll be able to love someone else more than he loves her.
Sons and Lovers is a fine example of the character-driven drama, with both Howard and Hiller superb as Paul's parents. The grit, devotion and reality that they bring to their roles resonates with the true lives of such workers, living in rented houses and surviving from week-to-week, deeply. The cinematography backs this acting admirably without pretension or fireworks; for instance, the subtle echoes between the lifting-wheel of the mine shaft and the farmyard mill water-wheel. There are inevitable variations from the book, the almost perfunctory love scenes for instance, but a great deal of the raw humour and substance is retained, leaving us with a memorable dialogue on the effects of human meddling in affairs of the heart.