Lady Chatterley [DVD]
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Adapted from the novels by DH Lawrence, Lady Chatterley is a passionate love story which portrays the tempestuous and scandalous affair between an aristocratic young woman and her husband s gamekeeper. Joey Richardson plays one of fiction s most famous and passionate characters, Lady Chatterley, and Sean Bean is Mellors, the moody and intense gamekeeper with whom she falls in love.
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Lawrence would have laughed (or cried) at the public spectacle. The obscenities in the book are not obscenities. They are challenges and provocations to our complacencies, to lazy, thoughtless, uncritical judgements. He used 'bad language' on purpose to shock us awake, to ground us in the earth where all natural things reside, to look at our sexual natures without the guilt and sin of Eden intervening to trouble and weaken us.
He added to the shock by crossing class lines, making his lovers love in a state of classless harmony. And love they do. Physically of course, although sex is only part of a fulfillment in which desire is not everything.
The usual themes of Lawrence are present. Society: crimped, narrow, confining, rigid, static, cruel, oppressive, hypocritical. The freed individual: natural, honest, innocent, pure, liberated. True love: generous, caring, sensitive, attentive, supportive, spontaneous, flexible, respectful. The social forms of love: duty, obligation, vows, roles, tradition.
Connie and Clifford Chatterley are married but they are not in love. Clifford thinks he is; Connie hungers to be. It isn't Clifford's fault. He is damaged by the war, crippled on the Western Front in a futile, pointless war. The symbolism here too is that England is spent, the landed gentry immobile and emasculated. So even if he weren't confined to a wheelchair, Clifford is crippled by all the ties to land and property that bind him through allegiance to an old, outmoded way of thinking. Connie is not bound so. She is English, but not loyal to the England of her husband. She will not sacrifice her youth, beauty, vitality, sensuality, femininity and freedom to it. Instead, she will allow love to lead her to a better place.
That place is the woodland cottage of the gamekeeper Mellors who is employed by Clifford. His job is to keep poachers at bay, which is probably one of Lawrence's better ironies, as Mellors is destined to poach his employer's wife from him. Mellors is rustic, rough-hewn, strong, virile. He has manners but they are his own, not those of the country gentleman. He is deferential to Connie because he respects her, not her social position. He knows (and Connie does too) that this position is the confection of the rich and powerful. It is real but also illusory.
Of the many things that love is, one of them is freeing. It is this love that Connie seeks. When Mellors realizes this, he too falls in love.
Where is the obscenity in this?
Sean Bean is an actor from the north — from Yorkshire. He does working-class men well and is fully believable as Mellors. Joely Richardson is a dream, a vision. She was in her youthful prime when the film was made in the early '90s. Watch out or you may fall in love with her too. James Wilby is always good. He plays these roles well where the weight of history and tradition crush him. His Clifford Chatterley is pitch perfect. We feel for him. He is a good man. He has already suffered greatly because of the war. How can we accept the added suffering that Connie causes him? It isn't easy. Even Lawrence knew that, which is why he portrayed him so sympathetically, not meanly. Clifford in many ways is a victim: of the war, class, tradition, history. What he inspires most is what he most loathes — pity.
What the French call menage a trois can only be sustained provisionally, temporarily. A point will be reached where one of the three must go. Clifford does. This is Lawrence's judgement. Connie's too.
Mellors has the strength of character and feeling to sustain Connie's happiness. That is really what Lawrence wanted to say.
Ken Russell manages to capture the cinematography wonderfully and the exterior scenes are lush and verdant. There are a number of scenes which show Connie dressed in white wandering through the grimy pit town which provide a sharp contrast between the classes. My only bugbear with this production was Russell casting himself as Connie's father, which was a bit strange and the somewhat odd and innapropriate orchestral score which eminates during the Connie and Mellors' somewhat energetic love scenes - you half expect the orchestra to be sitting in a nearby copse, playing away! Overall though, an excellent production and well worth a second viewing.
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