When D.H. Lawrence‘s book Lady Chatterley’s Lover was released in the late 1920s was a scandal. The story of a noblewoman discovering the pleasures of sex with a working-class man was something as shocking as the profanity and descriptions of orgasms and sexual intercourse described in the work. The result was censorship. The book was banned in the UK until the 1960s and only reached the market after a long court case against obscenity. Considered the author’s masterpiece, it is still today, in the 21st century, a bestseller, with millions of copies sold worldwide.
Another reason that generated controversy in England is that the story is inspired by real events. And, not surprisingly, it soon became content of interest for cinema and TV. The most recent one is from 2022, by Netflix, with Emma Corrin in the role of Lady Chatterley. Before her, there were several adaptations – more chaste or not – with the first being a French version, from 1955, which was banned in the United States for “encouraging adultery” and was released four years later, with the US Supreme Court reversing the decision.
In 1981, another French version was successful, this one exploring more the “pornographic” side of the story and with Sylvia Kristel in the role of Constance Reid, Lady Chatterley, and Nicholas Clay as Oliver Mellors. In another twelve years, Ken Russell made a version for the BBC, with Joely Richardson and Sean Bean as the lovers, and incorporated a second version of the same D.H. Lawrence into history with the book John Thomas and the Lady Jane. In 2015 there was an adaptation considered too chaste for the BBC, with Holliday Grainger, Richard Madden (at the time just out of Game of Thrones), and James Norton in the cast. Exactly because of the criticism that there was a great expectation of the adaptation of the work on Netflix. There is sex and nudism, but nothing exactly erotic as expected.
Emma Corrin, who will still always be remembered for her portrayal of Princess Diana on The Crown, has the age and docility you’d expect from Constance, and Jack O’Donnell has the charisma to play Oliver, but there isn’t much chemistry between the two. Interestingly, the same Joely Richardson, who was Lady Chatterley in the early 1990s, is in the cast as a supporter of Mrs. Bolton. For those who don’t know the story, still in the 1st World War, the young Constance Reid marries Sir Clifford Chatterley, an upper-class baronet who, like her, has liberal thoughts. The couple in love faces a serious challenge: Clifford returns from the War paralyzed from the waist down and with that the sex life of the two, already lukewarm, becomes non-existent. Isolated in the countryside, Constance ends up having an affair with the gamekeeper, Oliver Mellors, discovering pleasures she never imagined possible. In a caste society like the British Monarchy, the social difference between the two is both an aphrodisiac and a scandal. Gradually, their relationship turns into true love, with all the consequences of the choices they must make.
For the first time directed by a woman, director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, the Netflix version has changed from the original text, including the ending. Attention for SPOILERS.
For example, if in the original work Connie was a frustrated woman with no knowledge of physical pleasure, in the current version she was already more open and aware of how to have orgasms, so much so that she masturbates after seeing Oliver naked – washing – while in the book she cry yourself to sleep. Another alteration is to point out that Connie had already lived a forbidden romance before marriage. And if in the book she even has a chance encounter with a writer who frequents her house (where she doesn’t enjoy it) before taking more risks, in the Netflix version that doesn’t happen. Also, although the heroine’s pregnancy – as in the book – is expected by Clifford, as long as it was with someone of a social class compatible with theirs, what differs is how much Lady Chatterley is clear about the origins of her pregnancy and less snobbish than the character thought of by the writer. What’s even more different is the film’s happy ending. In the original version, the fate of the lovers is left open. After Oliver is fired, Connie remains with her sister, receiving a letter from her lover without defining whether there will be a reunion.
These caveats aside, Lady Chatterley’s Lover is good, but what remains timeless is no longer what is associated with the title (sex and pleasure), but the social prejudices of British society, which even in 2022 has not advanced much. But it’s a subject for another post.