Running Time: 161 minutes
Rated: Rated M (moderate sex scenes and nudity).
There have been some expressions of surprise that a French company should film D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover - but few English speakers have any qualms when Americans or the British film Madame Bovary, let alone Les Miserables. This French version is very well made, an intelligent interpretation of Lawrence and his world and world-view.
One of the difficulties is that naming the novel or even Lawrence brings up the obscenity trial in the 1960s - which in view of what has happened in terms of availability of novels and magazines let alone films and television, seems a bit quaint.
In fact, Lawrence wrote three complete versions of his story. The third was the centre of the trial. This film is based on the second version, a more straightforward telling of the story, called John Thomas and Lady Jane.
It is to the credit of the writer-director Pascale Ferran that she avoids any sensationalist or squalid presentation of the novel. It is frank and visually explicit (though not verbally) but appropriate to the context of the plot and characters.
This is the story of Constance Chatterley, married to Sir Clifford who has been injured in World War I - the film opens with a dinner party where the guests discuss the injuries and deaths in the war. Connie lives in the Chatterley mansion away from the town, isolated and lonely in the countryside. The film takes some time in helping the audience understand Connie, quiet episodes of her domestic life, moments by herself, quietly tense moments with Clifford.
It is then that she takes a message to Parkin the groundkeeper. He is a taciturn loner. However, as Connie continues to encounter him, she is sensually attracted to him and he responds to her. There are several scenes of sexual encounters where the emphasis is on the total response of each, not simple groping lust. The early encounters focus principally on Connie's face to appreciate what is happening to her. As the liaison continues, each of them becomes more loving, more committed and freer in the expression, less inhibited. Lawrence's moral framework is one of 'freedom' but he firmly believed in a total experience of sexuality: bodily, sensually, emotionally, even spiritually.
Marina Hinds, beautiful but not glamorous, is completely credible as the lonely woman whose marriage has eluded her and whose world is opened by the relationship with Parkin. Jean-Louis Coulluch is a perfectly ordinary looking Parkin. Hippolyte Girardot effectively creates tension as Sir Clifford.
The film is beautiful to look at with a lot of Merchant Ivory detail in production design and décor. The subject is one that not everyone is comfortable with, but this is an illuminating treatment of Lawrence and his novel.
Opens September 6
Fr Peter Malone MSC directs the film desk of SIGNIS: the World Association of Catholic Communicators, and is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.