FilmReview

Lady Chatterley’s Lover: Steamy? It’s not even NSFW

No viewer need fret for the morals of their servants or wives – it’s all sanitised sex and winsome romance

Lady Chatterley's Lover
    
Director: Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre
Cert: None
Genre: Drama
Starring: Emma Corrin, Jack O'Connell
Running Time: 2 hrs 6 mins

When Penguin Books, the publisher of DH Lawrence’s once-scandalous novel, was prosecuted under the UK’s Obscene Publications Act in 1959, Mervyn Griffith-Jones, on behalf of the crown, famously asked the jury, “Is it a book that you would even wish your wife or servants to read?” Griffith-Jones, who had represented the British during the Nuremberg trials, lost the argument and bookshops sold out of Penguin’s first run of the novel – some 200,000 copies – on the first day of publication. The book has subsequently been adapted on many more occasions than was necessary, including a 1981 iteration from the soft-porn team behind the Emmanuelle movies. Ken Russell’s BBC miniseries with Sean Bean and Joely Richardson as gamekeeper and mistress drew more than 12 million viewers in 1993.

Rest assured, consumers of this latest adaptation for Netflix need not fear for the moral safety of the help.

Save for a tasteful naked game of tag in the rain – all very much in keeping with Lawrence’s anti-industrialisation bent – Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre’s film would barely raise an NSFW flag.

Screenwriter David Magee, whose most recent credit was Mary Poppins Returns, transforms Lawrence’s tragedy into a winsome romance, as amplified by cinematographer Benoît Delhomme’s gauzy pastorals and Isabella Summers’s twinkling piano.

READ MORE

The gruff Mellors of the novel is gone. He no longer resents his former wife for pleasuring herself, nor does he berate his daughter for crying when he shoots a cat in front of her. Instead, he’s a sensitive soul and James Joyce fan, played with great tenderness by Jack O’Connell. Meanwhile, the “ruddy” Lady Connie is now a sex-positive heroine, in the form of the birdlike Emma Corrin, the young actor who came to prominence as Diana Princess of Wales in The Crown.

She’s unhappy and ignored by her toff husband; he’s unhappy with Britain’s freeloading aristocratic class and his greedy ex-wife. They come together for carefully choreographed caressing. There’s no sense of jeopardy or that Connie might have anything to lose. Class differences are mentioned in passing without being explored or emphasised. Conversations about sexual pleasure sound as if they’ve been rewritten with Mervyn Griffith-Jones in mind.

Remember that moment when Mellors snapped Connie’s knicker elastic “for she did not help him, only lay inert”? That won’t be happening here. The pretty pictures and silhouetted, sanitised sex will do well enough for Bridgerton fans, but the material has strayed so far from the source, one wonders why they kept the title.

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic