Can a movie with an entire scene full of frontal raging in the rain still feel polite? Yes, as it turns out. Lady Chatterley’s lover is gods class in sexy classic fiction, but the sexiest thing in Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre’s Netflix adaptation is the shots of the English countryside. That sure doesn’t feel right.
Emma Corrin plays the posh, wistful Constance Chatterley; Jack O’Connell is Mellors, the gruff gamekeeper who catches her eye after her husband, upper-class Sir Clifford, is maimed in battle. I wanted to love this movie so much. A literary period drama? Sexual tensions across class lines? The Shadow of War? Wonderful actors? It must be almost Christmas. But instead of crackling with electricity, it only hums like an energy-saving lamp.
The now infamous 1928 novel by DH Lawrence is about the human spirit recovering from a catastrophic war. “Our time is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically,” reads the opening line. Thanks to the 1960 obscenity trial and subsequent renunciation of Philip Larkin’s poem Annus Mirabilis, it has a legacy of forcing us to keep up with it and symbolizing earth-shattering moments of change. So, on the face of it, this seems like an intriguing time to do it all over again – when sexual politics has become such a contested area and we seem to yearn for a new world order. And yet everything feels like nothing: pleasant but pointless.
It begins with an intriguing vibe: Connie and Clifford (Matthew Duckett) have just got married and both seem dizzy to the point of intoxication. Is it love or the adrenaline of knowing that 99 percent of all men will die in war? The conflict seeps into moments of intimacy — “I can’t stop thinking about going back to the front lines,” says Clifford on their wedding night. On his return to his Wragby Hall estate, he became both impotent and paralyzed: Connie is now more of a carer than a wife.
Soon, however, film begins to only give us images of moods instead of creating them. We see Connie reading in a conservatory, bored and full of inertia. We can guess the outrage that she had to bathe the helpless Clifford. We get to witness how she handles newborn chicks once her passion awakens. Wragby Hall, on the other hand, is full of stuffed animals. It never sets up too much atmosphere. That is Lady Chatterley: the Pinterest board.
Connie’s cheeky grin after spotting Mellors’ bare bottom while he’s showering outside hints at the naughtiness to come. But together, the two don’t have the devastating chemistry the story demands — and as such, there doesn’t seem to be much at stake. There are a lot of sex scenes, yes. But we don’t feel the passion, the lust. It’s soporific scented candle sex, soullessly efficient.
Part of the problem is that Corrin’s portrayal of Connie seems almost too modern. Here, Connie is a woman of agency and confidence who embarks on an uncompromising quest for self-discovery. This nude rain dance scene shows the couple loud, proud, and fearless — but I was wondering if it would make sense for them to be a little more fearful of what inspires them within themselves, something wilder in their overcoming of social expectations, completely in defiance of them myself.
Lady Chatterley is not just a story about sex – it’s also about class. But apart from a few brief mentions of Sir Clifford mistreating Wragby staff, that subject feels underserved here, as Joely Richardson has been miscast as his nurse Ivy Bolton (she played Connie in Ken Russell’s 1993 version). What we get is a film to watch, even though it could have been wonderful.
But these landscape shots. Sir Clifford looks out over the green fields at one point and says, ‘I care more about not being able to have a son here than anywhere else.’ Can you blame him? Those are some sexy green fields.
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R: Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre. Cast: Emma Corrin, Jack O’Connell, Matthew Duckett, Joely Richardson. 15, 126 minutes.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover is available to stream on Netflix starting December 2nd
https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/reviews/lady-chatterleys-lover-netflix-review-b2236153.html Lady Chatterley’s Lover Review: The Netflix adaptation is ripe for dispassionate, soullessly efficient sex