Eamonn Kiernan gets down and dirty with Lady Chatterley
First things first - this film is no tawdry period romp with the odd explicit sex scene thrown in for good measure. Certainly not. Written for the screen and directed by Pascale Ferran, Lady Chatterley is based on the second version of DH Lawrence’s steamy novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Quite simply, it is a cinematic delight.
Lawrence originally wrote three distinct and separate versions of Lady Chatterley’s Lover. The second version was published in France as Lady Chatterley et l'homme des bois (Lady Chatterley and the Woodsman). Director Ferran choose to adapt this version for the silver screen, describing the story as 'simpler, less convoluted and more direct'. Ferran's resulting film is the first adaptation of the Chatterley story by a female director.
The aristocratic Lady Constance Chatterley (Marina Hands), is wife to Clifford Chatterley (Hippolyte Girardot), Lord of the local manor. Badly injured in the First World War, Clifford returns to Blighty rendered impotent and with the lower half of his body paralysed.
Although she has social status and no material worries, we slowly discover that Constance lives something of a sheltered, frustrated existence. Day in, day out she must play the perfect hostess to her husband’s friends, supervise servants and personally attend to her husband’s needs – bathing, shaving and administering medication. Her life is so busy that she doesn’t suspect the depth of her own sorrow.
Everything changes one day when Constance goes to the gamekeeper’s house to request he shoot some pheasants for an upcoming dinner party. Parkin (Jean-Louis Coullo'ch), is not home when she knocks, but by chance she happens to spy him as he performs his bare-torsoed outdoor wash with pitcher and bowl. She is stunned by her inflamed reaction to what she has witnessed and runs away, returning later to deliver her request in calmer mood.
From this moment on, Constance begins to see things differently. There can be no comparison between her earlier house-bound existence and the new delight which she takes in that outdoor world previously ignored. She becomes ill, which leads to her husband taking on a nurse to look after his needs. Constance now has free-time on her hands and she uses it to explore the natural world on her doorstep. Inevitably she and Parkin become lovers and the story of their passionate affair gradually unfurls.
Ferran is masterful in her use of colour and sound, light and shade to convey this new world the lovers discover themselves inhabiting. The locations in the film come across beautifully and the cinematography is truly stunning.
With a total running time of 168 minutes Lady Chatterley is definitely a long film. But paradoxically, as the credits role, it's almost seems too short – surely there must be more?
Perhaps this is because, as an audience member, you find yourself transported back in time to a different world, where the rhythms of life run deeper and slower. Yet even within this languorous world the lovingly filmed forest in which the lovers meet is a place out of time – vividly contrasted with the time-tabled bustle of the big house and the Victorian horror that is the local colliery.
Ferran develops the story gently, slowly building Parkin and Constance’s passion to tenderly reveal their innermost feelings. It is the care lavished on this construction, along with the fine ensemble acting on offer, that makes Lady Chatterley a film you will want to watch again and again.
Lady Chatterley is showing exclusively at Queens Film Theatre for 2 weeks from August 24 to September 9.