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Lady Chatterley’s Lover movie review: Magnetic, steamy, subversive, delightful

Lady Chatterley’s Lover movie review: Magnetic, steamy, subversive, delightful

Lady Chatterley’s Lover movie review: Magnetic, steamy, subversive, delightful
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By Sneha Bengani  Dec 3, 2022 7:50:13 PM IST (Published)

Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre’s film is a largely faithful adaptation that’s as tender and radiant as the love story it celebrates. Starring Emma Corrin and Jack O’Connell, Lady Chatterley’s Lover is available for streaming on Netflix.

That the real conflict of a once shocking novel has shifted from explicit nudity and frank exploration of physical desire to our muted acceptance of the class and gender divide shows how far we have come since DH Lawrence wrote Lady Chatterley’s Lover about a century ago.

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Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre’s new Netflix adaptation of the timeless classic could easily have gone down the path of 50 Shades of Grey, reducing sex to a soulless, surface act rather than an all-consuming, life-altering emotion. Or like the recent adaption of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, it could have forced itself to be contemporary and failed hopelessly at it. But Clermont-Tonnerre’s understanding of the text and her reverence for its inherent romance is too permanent, too pristine to be soiled by transience.
The result is a largely faithful adaptation that’s as tender, magnetic, and charming as the love story it celebrates. Clermont-Tonnerre’s perceptive direction, David Magee’s faultless screenplay, and luminous performances by Emma Corrin and Jack O’Connell will make you believe in love all over again, enough to want to fall hopelessly in it and guard it fearlessly with all you have.
The film opens on the wedding day of Constance Reid (Corrin) and baronet Clifford Chatterley (Matthew Duckett), both of them radiant in love. However, soon shipped off to fight World War I, Clifford returns paralysed from the waist down. He was always a snob but the war’s crippling after-effect makes him insufferable. To cope with the new reality, he relocates to Wragby, his family estate in the Midlands, and tunes out his young wife entirely by busying himself first with writing a novel and then with managing the land and modernising the coal mines.
Though impotent, Clifford still wants an heir to carry forward his family legacy and is brazen enough to suggest Connie that she conceive it with another man. His proposition is not without conditions, however. The chosen man should be of suitable rank and position, Connie mustn’t develop any feelings toward him, and no one can find out about their little rendezvous so he can pass off the child as his own. It doesn’t have to mean anything; it can be arranged like a visit to the dentist, he tells a bewildered Connie.
But as hard as Clifford may try to rob her of her agency, Connie turns out to be a force of nature with more life in her than Clifford and his wealth can contain. Like a country river, she finds her way to an obscure hut covered in the prolific wilderness of the Wragby estate and eventually, to Oliver Mellors (O’Connell), the newly-hired gamekeeper, who lives there.
Their initial encounters are charged with sexual tension, deliciously palpable and electric. They are both alone, both wanting, both barely able to conceal the abundance within them, and both yearning to share and revel in it together. Corrin and O’Connell’s on-screen chemistry is sexy, torrid, and earthy—a happy homecoming dance that has an infectious, raw, child-like quality about it.
I love that it is Connie who makes the first move. I love how Clermont-Tonnerre’s storytelling, despite nudity and steamy sex aplenty, transcends beyond it. I love how she, just like Connie and Oliver, doesn’t treat their passion as an ordinary summer romance. Rather, she accords it the dignity it deserves. But most of all, I love how Magee’s script finds the space to bring to fore the arrogance and the entitlement of those who benefit from class and male privilege.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover is a bold, brave film not just because of how unabashedly it celebrates the human body and the desires of the flesh but in how it dares to question and subvert the established status quo. Connie and Oliver’s idyllic lovemaking in the English woods, effervescent and ethereal as it might be—two people shedding all inhibitions to find themselves and each other—it’s political as it is personal. A resounding slap on propriety, genteelness, and the smugness of the elite. Timely and needed. Because us people, we tend to forget.
Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre’s film is a glorious reminder. For as much as every Connie deserves an Oliver, every Clifford deserves a Connie too—to cut them to size, hold them a mirror, show them their rightful place.
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