Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Lady Chatterley’s Lover (review) – anything can happen in the woods


Lady Chatterley’s Lover arrives in selected cinemas and on Netflix this December.

Lady Chatterley's Lover
Lady Chatterley’s Lover. (L to R) Emma Corrin as Lady Chatterley, Jack O’Connell as Oliver Mellors in Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

I’m not one for keeping up on English literature discourse, but I gather that the hot take on DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover is that its place in history has been vastly overstated. Supposedly, the 1960 obscenity trial of Penguin Books for publishing the book in its unexpurgated form in England for the first time is more worthy of comment than anything the book itself has to say about sex or society. 

I can see how someone might arrive at that conclusion – the trial does serve as a useful marker for understanding the post-war liberalisation of British social values. But I’m not entirely convinced. If that were true, the 2006 BBC drama The Chatterley Affair would have put the kibosh on any subsequent adaptations. By telling the story of a fictional affair between two of the jurors charged with determining whether or not the book should be considered obscene, it nods to the novel and the trial’s intertwined legacy.  


And yet, there’s something about this story that allows it to remain in our collective consciousness. This is in spite of its sexually explicit nature largely precluding it from being used as a set text at the secondary school level, which is one of the main ways that “classic” texts like Shakespeare and Dickens are democratised and made genuinely accessible to a wider audience.   

In this latest adaptation of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre seems keen to blow away any lingering cobwebs. The dialogue is noticeably modern, and the costuming is similarly styled to a point where many of the pieces would not look out of place on a rack at Anthropologie. We enter the story as the reasonably well-to-do Connie (Emma Corrin) is married in haste to the young baronet Sir Clifford Chatterley (Matthew Duckett) before he has to hurry back to the Western Front, where he is then paralysed from the waist down.


The subsequent adjustment period, where he and Connie take up residence at his ancestral home of Wragby in the Midlands, is shown in a way intended to feel familiar to couples today grappling with the early stages of living with an acquired disability. We see Connie act as his sole carer, the two struggling to negotiate chair transfers while trying to reestablish their sexual relationship. The extent to which Clifford’s sexual function has been affected by his injury is never made entirely clear, but he’s so cut up over the idea of being unable to sire an heir to Wragby that he ends up withdrawing from Connie completely, both emotionally and sexually.

Although Clifford is the one to suggest that Connie should seek out a man within their social class to assist her with the “mechanical act” of supplying him with a son that he could pass off as his own, it is his disregard for her feelings that drives her into the arms of the gamekeeper, Oliver Mellors (Jack O’Connell). Possessing a gentle spirit beneath his rough exterior that Clifford lacks, he and Connie soon embark on an intense love affair that threatens to upend both their lives. 


As an onscreen couple, Emma Corrin and Jack O’Connell aren’t entirely evenly matched. Corrin’s performance is the film’s greatest asset. Their wonderfully expressive face reveals Connie’s every flicker of uncertainty and sudden burst of joy. Meanwhile, O’Connell is much as you would expect him to be, terse but ultimately capable of delivering the tenderness lying beneath Mellors’ gruff exterior. 

I feel it would be remiss if I didn’t comment on the sex scenes, given how enmeshed they are with the source material’s reputation. I’m of the opinion that, whatever purpose a sex scene might serve structurally or thematically, the final visual product tends to be at the mercy of the audience members’ individual tastes. In terms of structure, these scenes don’t overstay their welcome or lead to any sagging in the narrative. This is thanks to an economical montage that streamlines scenes that are more drawn out in the book. As for theme, DH Lawrence’s overarching thesis was that the modern world alienated men and women from each other. Relief from this malaise was to be found in the natural world, where they might connect as living creatures rather than through abstract intellectual discourse or the confines of a stratified class system. 


In Clermont-Tonnerre’s rendering, this connection is more personal than primordial, but that might be what’s really kept Lady Chatterley’s Lover relevant over the past hundred years. This is a love story. We are told as much by Mrs Bolton, the nurse hired to care for Clifford, who comes to the aid of the young lovers, capably played by Joely Richardson, who played Connie in Ken Russell’s 1993 television adaptation. She says this almost as directly as Phoebe Waller-Bridge making the same statement in one of her characteristic fourth wall breaks on Fleabag, but it’s disarming in its earnestness.

We’re living in a world where the structural issues of society at large seem to be encroaching ever more on our sex lives, from concerns about the environment and future when contemplating parenthood to the atomisation of dating through apps. There’s something genuinely restorative about stepping into the dark of a cinema, briefly isolated from all that noise while watching two people form a genuine connection in a world that seems designed to alienate them from themselves and each other.

Your overall enjoyment of Lady Chatterley’s Lover will likely depend on your own personal preferences. But with a strong central performance from Emma Corrin and confidence in the beauty and power of a simple human connection, this new Netflix adaptation has a lot to offer.

  • Lady Chatterley's Lover (2022)


Your overall enjoyment of Lady Chatterley’s Lover will likely depend on your own personal preferences. But with a strong central performance from Emma Corrin and confidence in the beauty and power of a simple human connection, this new Netflix adaptation has a lot to offer.

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