‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ by DH Lawrence is considered a classic now, but had shocked the literary world once upon a time. I read it for the first time as a 19-year-old literature under-grad who was fascinated by its ‘scandalous’ claim to fame. However, the only memory I have of the book is feeling underwhelmed and dissatisfied after finishing it; perhaps too impatient to dwell deeper on the class divides, gender roles and cultural context of the story. I had already read enough Dickensian works to know the squalor, struggle and indignities suffered by the working class; Lawrence’s tale of a bored rich baroness having a passionate affair with her groundskeeper was much too mundane for a modern 21st century reader. And despite not holding the work in high regard, I streamed the 2022 Netflix film directed by Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre because it stars Emma Corrin who was pretty impressive in ‘My Policeman’, which also treads into ‘forbidden’ romance territory.
While Corrin is Connie Reid Chatterley, the handsome Jack O’Connell plays her lover Oliver Mellors, who rose to the ranks of a Lieutenant during the war but had to go back to working for his previous master AKA Clifford Chatterley (Matthew Duckett). Injuries suffered in the war render Clifford impotent, and he drags Connie away from the city to his sprawling property in Wragby to start a new career as a writer. At Wragby, Connie withers away like a flower denied sunlight, until she becomes familiar with Mellors, a straightforward man with none of the intolerable pompous airs of her husband’s intellectual friends.
The makers have evidently made a lot of changes to the original story. Lawrence’s publishers around the globe faced lawsuits for obscenity, not just for the ‘torrid’ extramarital affair, but also for its coarse language. However, nothing in the movie is stirring enough. There’s plenty of full-frontal nudity and sex, yet the chemistry between Emma Corrin and Jack O’Connell isn’t electric or compelling. It’s unfortunate, because the actors are fine in their respective roles, but don’t mix well together. Emma Corrin makes a fine Lady Chatterley, a woman stuck in a loveless marriage, because Lord Chatterley reduces her to his caregiver and proof-reader.
The cinematography is beautiful, from the green grounds of Wragby, to the ornate decorated halls of the Chatterley mansion, the movie is a sight for the eyes, especially for period drama enthusiasts. The intimate scenes are shot delicately, but perhaps fans of the novel would despise how soft their affair appears to be against the raw primal sexual awakening Lawrence had originally penned. And the climax marks the biggest departure from source material – viewers get a concrete ending between the two star-crossed lovers and not the cryptic “interpret it how you’d like to” closure in the book.
The movie convinces viewers that Connie is more than just a bored rich housewife looking for pleasure, but her affair feels fleeting and the script never comes to a cathartic pleasure a story like this can achieve. Maybe we didn’t need another remake of this often re-visited classic.
It’s a 6/10 from me for the film.
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