The latest adaptation of D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover is handsomely made an very well acted. Unfortunately, the shifting views of modern society renders the effort from director Laure de Clemont-Tonnerre (forgive the term) flaccid.
Emma Corrin stars as the eponymous character. Lady Chatterly marries the handsome Sir Clifford Chatterly (Matthew Duckett) just before he leaves for World War I. When he returns, he is paralyzed from the waist down, rendering their love life moot. Attempting to fill her life with the passion it so desires, she embarks on a torrid affair with Oliver Mellors (Jack O’Connell), Sir Clifford’s gamekeeper.
The 1928 novel was considered wildly controversial for its depictions of unapologetic adultery and sexual situations. With the softening views on sex in art as well as the proliferation (and availability) of pornography, the film seems rather tame by comparison. The sex scenes are passionate, steamy, and vital to the story. That being said, there is nothing depicted that hasn’t been seen in countless other films of varying quality (or even other versions of this same story).
Now, let’s do a thought exercise. Take out the sex scenes from this film. What do you have? A British woman is held back by morals and propriety from living the life she wants to live. This is a story we have seen a hundred times in a hundred different adaptations. This is where the film struggles. The sex is the driving force in the story and when you take the sex away, the film doesn’t have much to offer.
I am not saying including the sex makes the film better or worse. I would argue the sex was the driving factor in making the story interesting. This adaptation doesn’t put the time or investment to make the story worthwhile outside of the sex scenes. The sex is vital to the film’s story. Unfortunately, the non-sex parts are wildly forgettable.
Corrin and O’Connell do have blistering chemistry. Their sex scenes are emotionally charged, but are not limited by their amount of clothing. The actual love shared between them is felt as the story develops. Corrin is in the great majority of the film and doesn’t disappoint. Her characterization as a woman who is reserved and repressed to an independent “deviant” is earned and well-paced. She fits both sides of the story well. O’Connell is more of a mystery, but his decency is equally felt, especially in comparison to Sir Clifford.
Duckett plays the slime of Sir Clifford well, while Joely Richardson shows up as a household helper who straddles the line between acceptance and dismay at the situation. Faye Marsay plays Lady Chatterly’s sister Hilda, who seems free-spirited, but is actually coldly dismissive towards the relationship. Hardly anyone else registers as a supporting character.
Lady Chatterly’s Lover may have been the steamy sensation 60 years ago, but modern sensibilities have evolved. The filmmakers created hot and dynamic sex scenes, but forgot to make the rest of the film interesting.
Lady Chatterly’s Lover is now playing in select theaters and streams on Netflix on December 2nd