Lady Chatterley’s lover tries and fails to have it both ways

Jack O'Connell as Oliver, Emma Corrin as Lady Constance in Lady Chatterley's Lover

(LR:) Jack O’Connell and Emma Corrin enter Lady Chatterley’s lover
Image: Parisa Taghizadeh/Netflix

If you’re of a certain age, there’s a chance you have a special bond Lady Chatterley’s lover. No, not the book that was written by DH Lawrence in the late 1920s, but which remained unavailable until a well-publicized obscenity trial in 1960, but the Classic Skinemax from 1981 starring Sylvia Kristel and directed by Just Jaeckin, the sequel to their classic Emmanuelle. This film tended to air well past midnight, when an adventurous teenager could perhaps sneak into the spare room, keep the volume really low and check out some criticisms of the British class system of the interwar period !

No, no, this wasn’t actually the draw. The draw, of course, was caution with a capital P, but unlike other soft-core period pieces (and there were many!) there was at least an attempt to tell some sort of story with this one. (The same can’t be said for the ribald sequels Miss Chatterley or, above all, Miss Chatterley IIwith Adam West.)

It goes like this. Young Constance Reid (Emma Corrin) marries well, with Sir Clifford Chatterley (Matthew Duckett), baronet and heir to Wragby, a huge estate near a mining village. The day after the wedding (and wedding night), she leaves to fight the Great War and returns to a wheelchair. Her wounds prevent him from taking any action in the marital bed, which Lady Chatterley is not thrilled about, but she still seems pleased that her husband is alive.

They deal with updates to the manor, but then Clifford, a writer, becomes frustrated with his work and evolves into something of a jerk. Meanwhile, Connie can’t help but notice that the very friendly and helpful gamekeeper, Oliver (Jack O’Connell) is a freezing vixen. She probably she would never approach him, but Clifford’s desire for a male heir puts the idea of ​​living with someone into her head.

While Sir Clifford doesn’t want to know the details, he’s okay with a quiet, mercenary betrayal if it means Lady Chatterley should become pregnant. He would also gain face with the villagers, all of whom work for him in some capacity, because they correctly assume he is incapable of performing the sexual act. That would prove them wrong, wouldn’t it? It is not true?

Clear communication is important in a relationship, but there’s a mistake. Sir Clifford assumes his wife understands that their child’s secret father should be someone well educated, not a guy who works for a living. (And who is technically married to someone else, but let’s not get into all of that.) More problematic is that Lady Chatterley’s rolls in the hay with Oliver aren’t brief, rote encounters, they’re jaw-dropping, jaw-dropping adventures in carnal ecstasies that drastically reconfigure the his daily interests. Beyond that, both she and he “catch sensations,” so to speak.

This, as I’m sure you can imagine, causes some conflict.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover | Official trailer | Netflix

There have been two more or less respectable BBC productions (in 1995 and 2015) since Jaeckin’s 1981 film, but this new one, debuting on Netflix, tries to go both ways. Directed by Laura of Clermont-Tonnerre, whose florid name suggests a familiarity with coats of arms and nobility and park walks, is a lovely production with spectacular cinematography and set design. Benoît Delhomme’s cinematography has a veiled azure sheen that pairs well with the many rainy sequences and the occasional burst of color from a red dress or collection of yellow flowers. The interiors, from the lovers’ gardening shed to the William Morris wallpaper in Lady Chatterley’s private bedroom, are finely detailed, proving that this is no quickie operation.

But let’s face it, a lot of this is just obscenity. You schtup facing one way, then you schtup facing the other way. They crash into the grass, crash into the floor. For a minute I thought poor Emma Corrin’s head would hit the wood so hard there would be a wound. While witnessing the physical act of love on screen can sometimes transcend into something of great depth, this, I’m sorry to say, is not one of those instances. It’s just a lot of huffing and puffing. Clermont-Tonnerre’s signature move, it seems, is to reprise her lead role with a top and no bottom: the Daisy Duck, she’s sometimes called, and it’s rare to see so much of her in an otherwise classy production. For that, I suppose, you deserve a salute.

As things wind down there is an attempt to cram in some talk of workers rights and the inhumane attitudes of the rich obscenely but this is far from Peter it. There are also occasional moments of stunning modern touches in the script, such as Lady Chatterley, at the beginning of the film, saying that Sir Clifford ‘makes me feel safe’. I checked a PDF of the book and that dialogue is nowhere to be found. And then I read on because that DH Lawrence sure was a randy gentleman. This story, perhaps precisely because of his notoriety, tends to capture attention.

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