Lady Chatterley

Director: Pascale Ferran

Winner of five Cesar awards in its native France, this sumptuously photographed work marks the first adaptation of the scandalously sultry D.H. Lawrence classic by a female director. Although transported to the screen five previous times, Lady Chatterley is the first version I’ve seen as a filmgoer, partially because I’m usually disappointed by the filmed versions of the author’s works but after seeing Pascal Ferran’s film listed on numerous top ten lists by impressive critics including writers for The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly, I was inspired to check it out. Exquistely shot by cameraman Julien Hirsch, the film’s 168 minute running time filled with shots the last much longer than the one to two second video-game like cuts of the recent stellar Bourne Ultimatum that’s also appearing on top ten charts lulls one into believing it’s a classically styled period film with contemplative characters and methodic pacing. However, we’re soon as shocked as our young heroine Constance (Barbarian Invasions and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly’s Marina Hands) by the eroticism that follows in one of several unabashedly frank and steamy couplings that follow. For those unfamiliar with the storyline, Lady Chatterley tells the tale of a beautiful wife whose husband Sir Clifford (Jump Tomorrow’s Hippolyte Girardot) returns from World War I wheelchair-bound and paralyzed from the waist down. After Constance falls ill from both the taxing care she provides around the clock and a hereditarily fragile condition, the weakened woman is prescribed rest and relaxation by the family doctor. Once a nurse has been hired to look after her stubborn, understandably frustrated and sometimes bitter husband, Constance seeks solace in nature, going out for walks in the fresh air where she stumbles on the ideal retreat in the form of the estate’s small hut occupied by their gamekeeper Parkin (Jean-Louis Coulloc’h). Finding a connection with Parkin and at last able to sleep and relax comfortably at the hut, she requests a key to come and go as she pleases but soon, the two impulsively yet perhaps inevitably begin an affair that’s jeopardized by not only her duty back home to Clifford but also by their differences in class and circumstance which are complicated even further by traditional gender roles of the time period.

Despite the meticulous plotting of the beginning of the film, Lady Chatterley soon grows into a sparse, naturalistic styled explicit adult drama without much in the way of dialogue between Parkin and Constance other than a few short “meet me later” type of lines for us to respond to their relationship on a deeper level of human connection than just their carnal lust. However, perhaps because it’s the first version helmed by a woman, we feel more of an understanding of Constance who is filmed wearing at least one red costume article in nearly every scene than either male character and are particularly intrigued as we notice the way her character changes throughout both internally and externally and aren’t at all exhausted by the film’s challenging running time that actually felt warranted rather than bloated. Successful work that captures the spirit of Lawrence without the full understanding of the other parties that would’ve made it wholly satisfying, nonetheless worth seeing for literature devotees with the warning that as a film, it’s probably as scandalously sensual as the novel was when it was first written. Recently released on DVD, the film has earned numerous awards for actress Marina Hands’ courageous portrayal along with nominations for Ferran’s work.