The uproar caused by D.H. Lawrence’s novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover is well-documented and need only be brought up here in passing comparison to Pascale Ferran’s deathly dull film adaptation, a 168-minute condensation of a 220-minute French television miniseries that swept the César Awards (and so has strengthened the impish little cynic on my shoulder). Indeed, Lady Chatterley, as it’s titled, is little more than a summa cum laude graduate of the Merchant-Ivory school of Classics Illustrated, tarted up with a few languorously empty nature shots and (Quel scandale!) a full-on close-up of a half-erect penis.
Perhaps the inflammatory nature of Lawrence’s novel (unread by this reviewer) was a byproduct of its time, lightning in a bottle that no cinema translation could ever hope to capture. Still, we should expect more than this middling trifle, which is interesting only for its nonchalant development of the intimacy between the upper-crust Lady Constance (Marina Hands) and her proletarian gamekeeper lover Parkin (Jean-Louis Coullo’ch). Their first encounter is infected by a clear-cut case of the repressives: awkward, fumbling, and embarrassingly quick, it is not exactly a love that moves the earth. With each successive sex scene, their comfort level increases, more clothes come off, and—in the film’s best passage—they frolic around naked in the rain, carefree and oblivious to anything but the moment they’re in.
I can’t attest in anything but the superficial as to the film’s faithfulness to Lawrence’s text (reportedly it is based on the second version of the novel, entitled, in French, Lady Chatterley et l’Homme des Bois; in English, John Thomas and Lady Jane). A colleague more up on the author’s work crinkled his nose at the mere mention of the title, dismissing it, with a pungent exhale, as “trash.” In the Pauline Kael sense of the term, Ferran’s film might have benefited from such a perspective; as is, it has no perspective beyond the indistinct one forced upon it by the words “Action” and “Cut.”
Keith Uhlich is managing editor of The House Next Door, a staff critic for Slant Magazine, and a contributor to a variety of print and online publications.