Another movie I missed out on in the cinemas despite the best intentions, Lady Chatterley is a French adaptation of an earlier version of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, a once-notorious novel by D. H. Lawrence. Pretty tame by today’s standards (you’ll find much more explicit content in your Jackie Collins novel), at the time the book was banned for its frank descriptions of sex, use of unprintable words and a central romance between a high society woman and a working class man. Though I really wanted to see the film, I raised my eyebrows at the running time, which clocks at almost three hours, but if anything this movie is a proof that a good movie can never be too long.
Connie (Marina Hands) is a young woman living at a gorgeous country estate with her husband Clifford, who is bound to a wheelchair after receiving an injury in World War I. They have an amiable, polite and passionless marriage which bores her out of her skull, to the point of physical illness. She begins to spend time at the forest hut of their gamekeeper, Parkin (Jean-Louis Coullo’ch), a taciturn man and something of a loner, at first because she finds the peace and quiet rejuvenating. Soon enough, the visits turn into an affair, and the movie charts the course of the relationship from its fumbling beginning – he grunts away, she lies there with the detached, what-the-hell-is-happening expression on her face – to a true intimacy, love and tenderness that transcend class. I was rather pleased that scene from the book where lovers decorate their bodies with flowers made it into the film; it could have been something truly cringeworthy (animal crackers scene from Armageddon anyone), but in the hands of a capable and, must be said, very French director it becomes touching and sexy.
The movie has a peculiar rhythm, where the individual scenes unfold gently and take their time, but the transitions between the scenes are done abruptly with lots of fade-to-black (and I mean lots), title cards (which I haven’t seen in movies in ages) and voiceover. It shouldn’t really work but somehow it all adds to the feeling of reading a novel on a long lazy afternoon. The leads are absolutely wonderful – Hands has a lively, expressive face that perfectly conveys Connie’s emotions; her male lead might not be an Adonis, shortish with a rough-hewn appearance, but their scenes together have a genuine sensuality. Another big standout of the movie is the beautiful setting that frames Connie’s physical awakening, which is shot with an obvious love for nature and really made me pine for the lush, green, sunlit European forests. It’s honestly one of the very few things I miss here in Australia. The movie touches briefly on the wider social and political issues, but not to the degree they’re explored in the later version of the book – this is a much more straightforward story. The only problem I had with the film is the ending, which doesn’t really feel like one – it plays just like another scene and then the movie simply… ends. Maybe I’m too used to the conventional ways of ending a film, but it felt jarring.