Corrin’s brave performance in Lady Chatterley’s Lover is honest and graceful.
We review the Netflix film Lady Chatterley’s Lover (2022), which does not contain spoilers.
By my count, Netflix’s take on D.H. Lawrence’s love story, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, is the tenth adaptation for the big, small, and streaming screens. The latest attempt from The Mustang director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre is a sumptuous, if not oddly loyal, take on Lawrence’s work. The film burns up the screen with some memorable sex scenes that captured millions’ outrage when the book was published, something we have not seen in romance films of late, with perhaps Rocketman being the last one (and may have to do with the four-year run of the family values “red state” crowd). However, there is some fumbling with a graceful juggling act regarding classism by being too noble for its own good.
If you don’t know the story, you have Lady Chatterley (The Crown‘s Emma Corrin), who has married Sir Clifford Chatterley (Matthew Duckett), a man of stature and a high-ranking officer in the military. Sir Clifford goes off to war and returns paralyzed from the waist down. This was not what the lady of the house signed up for. In her eyes, Clifford has moved them out of London to Wragby, in the middle of nowhere. Her husband won’t let anyone else touch him, regulating herself into a nursemaid, something she has never had aspirations for. To make things worse, her husband has resigned himself to stopping all physical relations with her.
However, Sir Clifford isn’t without his concerns for his wife. He feels the lady needs the sound of little feet pattering around their mansion. He devises a plan for Lady Chatterley to find a man of substance and take in a lover. Then, when she is “with child,” it will look like they started their own family. However, she finds solace, then passion and love with a gamekeeper, Oliver Mellors (Trial by Fire’s Jack O’Connell), a former military lieutenant. He has left his wife for cheating on him during the war, living in a little shack on Chatterley’s property. The lady of the house falls for Mellor’s masculinity, sensitive touch, and physical attraction that she cannot ignore.
Clermont-Tonnerre and Life of Pi’s Academy Award nominee David Magee‘s script do a fine job capturing fundamental nuances of the source material. For one, the issue of sex, the myth of loyalty in marriage, and love conquer all despite momentous odds. For this matter, the theme of “whole” health in relationships must include a physical component. You also have the cold and brutal regression of Duckett’s Clifford. His wife cannot respect his attempts to be a writer and treats her like a servant. You even have Joely Richardson’s Mrs. Bolton, who Corrin’s Lady Chatterley steps aside to let her nurse her husband. She sees the perverse mothering she offers Clifford. Another layer of why the marriage wasn’t working for her as he was seeking a “mother hen” and not a wife.
Where the film falters slightly is connecting the theme of two minds and bodies. While Lady Chatterley feels a connection for Mellor’s plight and their shared trauma of their marriages being ruined by the war, she has more of an issue with her husband’s classism than an attraction to Mellor’s mind. O’Connell has been a gifted actor who has never found the right film role to suit his talents. His character is largely left from the adaptation, which is a shame because you learn extraordinarily little about the man. Oliver’s portrayal is more of a storytelling tool than a three-dimensional character, which undercuts the plot slightly.
However, the film is carried by Corrin’s turn. It’s a fairly brave performance by the young actor that is sexy, sinful, and full of grace. But perhaps, most importantly, she is honest by being unafraid to show her embracing her own biases, despite social norms, which goes against the grain of most romance films and is what made Lawrence’s book so revolutionary at the time. While Lady Chatterley’s Lover could have used some fleshing out to better connect the theme of classes, Clermont-Tonnerre has enough heat and skill to be a more effective period romance than most.
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