Lady Chatterley's Lover full movie review - Chaste Version of the Lawrence Classic Emphasizing Class Conflict
Compared to earlier versions of the Lawrence novel on film and television - for example, Ken Russell's 1993 television version or Sylvia Kristel's porno-fest (1981) directed by her then-husband Just Jaeckin, Jed Mercurio's telefilm is relatively chaste in terms of sexual content.
We see Mellors (Richard Madden) and Connie (Holliday Grainger) making love, but it is tastefully filmed by the fire in Mellors' shack, using lighting strongly reminiscent of Russell's WOMEN IN LOVE (1969).
Director Mercurio seems far more interested in exploring the consequences of class-difference in a highly stratified society. Clifford Chatterley (James Norton) views his mine-workers and servants as sub-humans, whose sole function consists of serving the rich. In one sequence he sits in his motor-cycle and sidecar and lets Mellors push him out of a rut, even though this proves injurious to Mellors' health. He treats Ivy Bolton (Jodie Comer) with equal disdain - that is, until the climactic moment when Bolton confronts her master with the news of Lady Chatterley's affair.
The contrast between rich and poor could not be more stark. The film opens with a mining accident in which Ivy's husband Ted (Chris Morrison) is crushed to death by an underground fall of coal. Left with little or nothing to survive on, Ivy can only eke out an existence serving the rich. By contrast Clifford lives a life of comfortable gentility, indulging in frequent parties whose guests dance to Scott Joplin rag-times played by a servile band.
It is these class-differences that inspire Mellors' resentment. The reason for his feelings is clearly explained towards the end; suffice to say that he believes that the landed gentry have little or no conception of what it is to live on the bread-line, at the beck and call of the upper classes. We might be persuaded to see his affair with Lady Chatterley as a means for him to take revenge on all the social slights he has experienced throughout his life.
Yet Grainger's performance proves that this is clearly not the case. As Lady Chatterley she spends much of her time caring for her husband, even though it is a thankless task. Frustrated by her husband's impotence, she looks for love and compassion; and finds both in Mellors. She resembles a ship without a rudder; constrained by the conventions of a restrictive upper class, she longs to express herself both emotionally and sexually. Grainger proves extremely good at suggesting this frustration through small facial gestures puncturing her veneer of social respectability.
To be honest, this version of LADY CHATTERLEY does not make any attempt to explore sexual feelings in any great depth, as in Lawrence's source-text. Director Mercurio sees the story as a tussle between duty and emotion, which reaches a climax at the end when the three protagonists at last confront one another.
This is a thoroughly satisfying production of the Lawrence classic, marred only by some syrupy music (by Csrly Paradis) that sometimes directs our attention away from the characters' emotions.