The movie demonstrates, if nothing else, how difficult it is to adapt D.H. Lawrence’s works.
If nothing else, Lady Chatterley’s Lover by Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre demonstrates how difficult it is to adapt D.H. Lawrence’s writing. Despite how accurately the film adapts the story and themes from the original work, it fails to capture the spirit, ironing out Lawrence’s modernism-skeptical modernism and losing sight of his poetic vision.
This wouldn’t matter if the movie had its vision. Still, aside from a few s*x sequences that are retrofitted to conform to modern ideas of good s*x, it little distinguishes itself from other historical dramas, making it vulnerable to unfavorable comparisons to the book.
Theoretically, Lady Chatterley’s Lover should be the most adaptable of Lawrence’s principal works—perhaps even more so today than s*x scenes in movies are so ubiquitous as to raise all but the most pious eyebrows. Unlike The Rainbow, it doesn’t span numerous generations. It also doesn’t strain the bounds of language to express disparate states of awareness, like in Women in Love.
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Despite taking greater technical liberties than de Clermont-film, Tonnerre’s such as flipping the image for one scene, Ken Russell’s adaptation of Lawrence’s novel Women In Love, directed by Larry Kramer, never successfully captures the profound lyrical abstraction of Lawrence’s writing on the screen.
Although David Magee’s script dramatizes many storyline points that are only hinted at in the book and replace the summary with montage and voiceover readings of letters, it adheres to the same core plot. Aristocratic Clifford Chatterley (Matthew Duckett) marries Constance “Connie” Reid (Emma Corrin), a well-educated bohemian from London, just before he departs to fight in World War I.
The two relocated to his family’s estate in Wragby after he returned from the war disabled from the waist down. While Clifford becomes more involved in managing the coal mines in the nearby village of Tevershall, Connie develops a love affair with the groundskeeper, Oliver Mellors (Jack O’Connell), as a result of s*xual frustration with Clifford’s writing career. Connie becomes pregnant after becoming s*xually awakened and in love, and the affair is ultimately exposed, leading to terrible repercussions.
Like Russell before her, De Clermont-Tonnerre cannot visualize Lawrence’s distinctive language style. For starters, Lawrence’s description of the Midlands’ devastation and the miners’ depressing exploitation at the hands of Clifford and his class, which serves as the backdrop for Connie and Mellors’ revitalizing s*xual discoveries, is not directly depicted in the movie.
The depiction of class conflict in the movie primarily comes through dialogue, undermined by the lavish costumes and aristocratic set dress typical of period dramas. Mellors, however, does not move between Derbyshire vernacular and “correct” English in the book because he exclusively uses dialect.
There are only a few scenes where class tension is dramatized. On May Day, Connie first travels to Tevershall and sees the locals celebrating around a Maypole as a small group of miners march through the street to demonstrate against their working conditions.
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In this scene, which doesn’t appear in the book but distills its themes—a naturalistic, pagan s*xuality and working-class resistance—into a single, evocative image, we get a taste of a looser approach to adaptation that the movie could have followed.
Later in the movie, Clifford asks Mellors to check out his broken-down motorized wheelchair because he thinks that because of his servant’s background, he has an intuitive understanding of how motors work. Insisting on the superiority of the engine over the human body, he then chastises the groundskeeper for volunteering to push the wheelchair through the muck without Connie’s assistance.
Even in the novel, the tension between machinery and labor and Clifford’s conceit and trust in modernity are depicted in a cinematic setting rather than explicitly stated. Unfortunately, the filmmakers didn’t draw conclusions based on this similarly imagistic sequence.
The film’s reworking of the s*x sequences to highlight Connie’s pleasure and autonomy represents its most striking divergence from the novel and conventional expectations of a period picture. In most movies, such scenes emphasize the idea of s*x over the act using several traditional visuals.
At least, Lady Chatterley’s Lover depicts Connie and Mellors’ growing s*xual intimacy throughout several encounters and, unusually for mainstream cinema, doesn’t shy away from pubic hair, genitalia, cunnilingus, kink, and other such topics. Nevertheless, there is something overly simple about them. The novel’s poetic evocation of transforming bodily consciousness may have benefited from a more indirect, experimental approach.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover by Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre shows how hard it is to adapt the writing of D.H. Lawrence. Even though the movie stays true to the story and themes of the book, it fails to capture the spirit of the book. It smooths over Lawrence’s skeptical modernism and loses sight of his poetic vision.
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