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Lady Chatterley's Lover - Review * 16 September 2015


A new adaptation of D.H. Lawrence's controversial novel, the recent release of Lady Chatterley's Lover from Hartswood Films sees a confident modernisation of the original text from writer/director Jed Mercurio, ably assisted by many of the peerless behind the scenes team from BBC Sherlock.

The single most fascinating thing about this ninety minute film is the conscious choice to effectively strip away the elements that made the original novel so controversial on publication - namely the sex and strong language. By removing the factors that made the story so notorious, we are instead left with a heightened focus on the emotional core of the narrative and the class conflicts between the characters. Lawrence's prose is of course deeply concerned with the notion of sexual intimacy as an emotional act, but what may work on the page does often not translate to the screen - visual gratification (or to some, gratuity) could detract from the deeper character work at play.

What we are thus left with is a torrid menage a trois, with a far greater emphasis on the emotional state of the crippled Sir Clifford Chatterley (James Norton), frustrated and sympathetic in his inability to be the husband and lover his wife (Holliday Grainger) increasingly desires, leading to her growing attraction to the newly employed gamekeeper Mellors (Richard Madden). While packed with differences between page and screen, perhaps the most interesting spin the adaptation takes is to make Mellors and Sir Chatterley contemporaries, both victims of the Great War in different ways, with a link formed between the two in the instant Chatterley is wounded in the trenches. Both lock eyes in the immediate aftermath, but only Mellors remembers the encounter - a moment that ultimately cleaves right to the heart of the world the characters inhabit, and a source of ammunition for the embattled groundskeeper come the markedly different closing moments of the drama.

Visually, the drama packs all the elements you would want from a Hartswood Films production into its runtime, chiefly the continually fantastic production design of Arwel Jones, fashioning the entirety of Mellor's stone cottage in the woods. Sherlock costume designer Sarah Arthur is also on hand to evoke the post-war period through the extravagence of Lady Chatterley's dresses against Mellor's earthy and functional work wear, while Claire Pritchard adds luminescence and grit to the makeup.

All told, everything adds to up to production of consummate skill, revisiting a controversial classic and exploring it in a distinctive new way instead of being beholden to the elements that made the story so famous, while exploring new themes that have proven even more pertinent with hindsight. By the close, we could perhaps say that love can ultimately be just as much a battlefield as any warzone.   

Lady Chatterley's Lover is available now on Region 2 DVD and Blu Ray.