Synopsis: An unhappily married aristocrat begins a torrid affair with the gamekeeper on her husband’s country estate.
Stars: Emma Corrin, Jack O’Connell, Matthew Duckett, Joely Richardson, Ella Hunt, Faye Marsay
Director: Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre
Running Length: 126 minutes
TMMM Score: (7.5/10)
Review: For a novel as infamous as Lady Chatterley’s Lover, I’m surprised I knew so little about it going into this tenth film adaptation. After all, the book’s sordid history is legendary in literature for its lengthy discourse over the fine line between art and obscenity. Banned in many counties at various times since it was published in 1928 by D.H. Lawrence, it exists as a naughty novel with scandalous passages of adulterous trysts and a statement on the class division between the aristocrats and the working class. Of course, all anyone remembers are the copious amounts of sensuality, not the social commentary. A new version of Lawrence’s work gives the viewer an eyeful in that regard.
Releasing on Netflix after a brief theatrical run, the 2022 Lady Chatterley’s Lover has assembled a crackerjack production team led by director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre. The sharp-eyed director was behind the understated (and underseen) The Mustang back in 2019, and she turns her talents to bringing the Lawrence novel to life through a 21st-century lens. Still very much a period drama; there’s a modern current running through the film that’s hard to ignore for any period. That will work for those new to the text (like myself) but may alienate purists who want to keep things neat.
Before heading back to the front line in the Great War, Clifford Chatterley (Matthew Duckett) marries the lovely Connie Reid (Emma Corrin, My Policeman) and promises her a life of adventure. No one could predict what the devastation of battle would bring their people, and a half year later, Clifford is paralyzed from the waist down, and the barely newlyweds are settling into their future at his country estate. Finding her love and vows tested early due to Clifford’s impotence, his desire for an heir pushes him to encourage his bride to seek out another man that could give them both a child. Recoiling at the thought initially, the arrival of handsome groundskeeper Oliver Mellors (Jack O’Connell, Unbroken) makes her reconsider not just her husband’s offer but pre-destined plans she thought she had no control over.
The relationship between Connie and Oliver develops far less as a flash-in-the-pan, steam-up-the-windows fling. As much as it would be easy to lump Lady Chatterley’s Lover as a predecessor to the Fifty Shades of Grey series, there’s a maturity and sensitivity to their affair that strikes a chord from the beginning. The chemistry and connection shared between Corrin and O’Connell helps immeasurably; with both actors frequently appearing nude, their comfort assists the audience in letting our guard down faster. The lack of inhibition endears the characters to one another and, ultimately, to us.
Yet once the film establishes this bond, it becomes repetitive quickly. The eroticism on display is filmed with caring intimacy, but at some point, it feels more titillating than transporting. Much effort has been made to set Lady Chatterley’s Lover in a specific time and place, but when it goes to a place of groans and moans, you start to look around to see who might be watching over your shoulder. Unfortunately, that’s when the performances get lost among the heaving bosoms and exposed flesh (an excessive amount of a bottomless Corrin vs. O’Connell, I should say).
The trivia buffs have already gnawed off all the fun around a previous Lady Chatterley, Joely Richardson (Color Out of Space) from the 1993 Ken Russell adaptation, returning in the motherly caretaker role of Mrs. Bolton. Richardson works fine with the part, as does Faye Marsay (Darkest Hour), appearing as Connie’s more forthright sister in brief bookends. It’s essentially Corrin’s film, though, and she does a complete 180 from what we saw in The Crown, shedding the shy vulnerability of Princess Diana for the more headstrong Connie.
I can’t speak to how well this adaptation of Lady Chatterley’s Lover compares to the source novel or other versions before; I chose to go in totally blind on this one. In a way, I’m glad I did because this piece has picked up a lot of baggage (read: opinions) over the years, and a new view is likely warranted. Nestled in a lovely production are performances that don’t hold back physically, even if the world they inhabit occasionally takes advantage of them.