Lady Chatterley is a French film adaptation of John Thomas and Lady Jane,
which is the second of three separate and independent versions that D. H.
Lawrence wrote of his groundbreaking novel, Lady Chatterley’s Lover.He
considered the third version the definitive one—and that is the one we
secretly thrilled over as teenagers.
The back story of the film is that Constance Chatterley had been only 23
years old and had been married only briefly before her Cambridge graduate,
mine-owner husband, Sir Clifford, is seriously wounded at Flanders.He
returns wheelchair bound and impotent.
The film begins several years later, after the couple has moved to Wragby,
one of the Chatterley family properties.Lady Chatterley, (Marina Hands) is
isolated, bored and lonely.Sir Clifford (Hippolyte Girodot) exudes that
upper-class English arrogance, which, combined with the bitterness over his
injuries, leaves him remote and disagreeable.
And then Constance meets the gamekeeper, Parkin (Jean-Louis Coulloc’h) who
introduces her in the pleasures and passion of lovemaking.Unlike Lady
Chatterley’s Lover, in which the gamekeeper is a former British Indian Army
officer, in this film, Parkin is a simple small town recluse. So there is
some tension on Parkin’s part about their class differences.
Though the film, which runs for over two and a half hours, is at least an
hour too long, there are several lovely scenes of Constance’s sexual
awakening that today seem more innocent than erotic, although they are
frankly sexual.They are a pleasure to watch.But there are also some
annoying and recurring downward camera shots of the ground underfoot, a
narrator who interrupts the flow periodically to explain awkward scene
changes and, inexplicably, the introduction of music in only one brief scene
midway through the film.
The film’s French female director and screenwriter, Pascale Ferran, does
recapture this uniquely English work, and yet she brings a quintessential
French style to the film.The subtleties and intelligence of the screenplay
and the exceptional performance by Marina Hands transport Lady Chatterley
from what could have been a cliché or embarrassment to an objet d’art,
albeit a slow and imperfect one.
Here is an irreverent plot summary that I doodled during the dull first hour
of the film: