I have no familiarity whatsoever with D.H. Lawrence’s classic novel of the same name, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, but IMDB tells me that the material has certainly already seen its fair share of cinematic adaptations. However, I do believe this version is quite notable in that director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre approaches the timeless story through a female perspective. Sure, the material is still written by a man (in this case, David Magee of Finding Neverland and Life of Pi pens the script), but going the extra mile in portraying the female gaze adds an impressive shift in focus. It also helps that leads Emma Corrin and Jack O’Connell have sexual chemistry with one another that simmers and explodes with passion.
As our story begins, Connie (Emma Corrin, My Policeman) has officially just become Lady Chatterley. Freshly married to the sweet Clifford (Matthew Duckett), Connie prepares for a new life away at Wragby in their new home. She constantly writes to her sister Hilda back home. Clifford promises to write to Connie while off at war. When he eventually returns to her after an injury, their relationship becomes a bit complicated. Clifford is partially crippled, in need of serious constant aide that he only permits Connie to execute. Furthermore, he cannot perform sexually. However, their family is expecting an heir, and somehow getting one becomes crucial for Clifford. There are certain expectations that must be met—if he cannot give her a child, Clifford must allow another. He tells Connie that he doesn’t mind who she sleeps with, but he does not want to know about it.
They hire several new faces to help out around the grounds of Wragby. A new maid and gamekeeper are brought on. Oliver (O’Connell, Skins, Little Fish), a war vet whose own wife slept with others while he was dispatched, is left in charge of a hut where he breeds chicks. A casual glance and an unexpected visit to his hut ends with Connie picking a fresh batch of flowers at Oliver’s insistence. Before one can say “meet cute,” Connie requests a key to this getaway that Oliver claims he sometimes locks. It only takes a few more visits to the peace of the hut for Connie to fall entirely under Oliver’s spell. Translation: they engage in a fiery love affair.
Connie has absolutely no qualms about embracing this new flame. Oliver is afraid of what people may think if they are spotted together. To call this film sexually charged would be an understatement; if this was a theatrical release, I have no doubt it would be rated NC-17. Both Jack O’Connell and Emma Corrin go full frontal, and unabashedly so. One of the film’s most stunning sequences is just the two of them having fun in the rain, laughing and prancing about completely nude.
If the movie may sound too explicit, I simply must insist that Lady Chatterley’s Lover never crosses over into feeling pornographic or exploitative. Both sides of the couple are given equal opportunity attention from the camera. Beyond just the visuals, we really get to know these characters well. Connie is complex enough that through Corrin’s performance, there is a tangible difference between her first scenes with Mr. Chatterley versus the first with gamekeeper Oliver. This isn’t just a relationship ruled by lust, but can it truly stand the test of time? The text explores that facet in a way that really pulled me in.
As far as romance/dramas are concerned, Lady Chatterley’s Lover is definitely one of the best this year. I never thought I would say this, but I was won over by the beautiful, tender core. The desire bleeds out from every frame. I have to imagine this is as close to a live action version of a top tier romance novel as we would ever see. This will, for sure, win over hearts looking to fill the void.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover unfolds its sensual delights exclusively to Netflix subscribers on Friday, December 2nd.