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18th December 2022

Lady Chatterley’s Lover review: Steamy, stylish, and slow

Netflix’s latest adaption of D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover is steamy, stylish, and slow
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Photo: Lady Chatterly’s Lover @ Netflix

D.H. Lawrence’s 1928 novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover was famously banned for its explicit sex scenes and depiction of a forbidden inter-class affair. French Director Laure De Clermont-Tonnerre’s latest Netflix adaptation, however, revels in these aspects of the novel.

Emma Corrin stars as Lady Constance Chatterley, the wife of aristocrat and businessman Sir Clifford Chatterley. After war injuries leave him partially paralysed, Clifford becomes physically and emotionally distant from his wife. Sexually frustrated and socially isolated, Lady Chatterley finds a kindred spirit in the estate’s gamekeeper Oliver Mellors (Jack O’Connell). He becomes – you guessed it – Lady Chatterley’s lover, and their relationship crosses and dissects social, economic, and sexual boundaries.

The novel was originally banned for over 30 years, with publishers having to undergo an obscenity trial to achieve its eventual publication in 1960. Lawrence’s use of explicit language, the depiction of sex, and the controversial central extramarital relationship sparked years of moral debate. In her take on the story, De Clermont-Tonnerre (The Mustang, Giraffada) attempts to replicate the shocking eroticism of the novel by putting sex centre-stage.

One thing’s for sure: the film isn’t lacking in either sex scenes or nudity. It’s clear, however, that it is directed by a woman. The sex scenes, while explicit, never feel vulgar or objectifying of the characters. The film’s intimacy coordinator, Ita O’Brien, (who also worked on Normal People) deserves major recognition in this department.

Aside from their overtly sexual relationship, the film also relies on the emotional connection between Corrin and O’Connell, who cement themselves as talents to watch out for. Emma Corrin once again plays a woman trapped in an unhappy marriage, a role they seem stuck in since their breakout as Princess Diana in The Crown. Perhaps this typecasting isn’t all bad, as Corrin gives the sophisticated Lady Chatterley a carnal, rebellious edge. This is evenly matched with Jack O’Connell’s understated tenderness and uncompromising gruffness as Oliver Mellors.

The passion of the lead performances, along with the beautiful scenery of North Wales and Emma Fryer’s masterful costuming, make this a much better adaptation of Lady Chatterley than its predecessors (see the BBC’s flat, passionless 2015 film). It is not, however, perfect. The lurid green colour grading is…interesting, and the screenplay takes a little too long to gain any momentum, making for an incredibly slow first hour.

Furthermore, the class tensions that constantly bubble under the surface of the book fizzle out into nothingness here. The theme is reduced to a few lines of dialogue about striking miners, or Sir Clifford’s treatment of his staff. It is clear that for De Clermont-Tonnerre romance is the primary concern.

Ultimately, when tackling a novel that sparked such outrage and decades of discourse, it’s hard for any adaptations to not feel somewhat underwhelming. In an increasingly sex-positive cultural climate, it’s tricky to extract any new reading of the story from modern adaptations. Still, fans of classic literature and period pieces will be glad to have an adaptation that is female-directed, female-centred, and explores female desire.

3/5.

 

Lady Chatterley’s Lover is streaming now on Netflix.


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