Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1981)

Lady Chatterley's Lover (1981)Synopsis: The Classic of Erotic Literature

Sylvia Kristel (Emmanuelle) is “beautiful” (The New York Times) as the lonely young wife of a wealthy aristocrat in this scintillating tale of love, lust and forbidden fantasies. Adapted from D.H. Lawrence’s famously erotic novel, this “truly sumptuous production” captures the “splendor of the English countryside” (The Hollywood Reporter) and the torturous conflict between duty-and desire.

Paralyzed from the waist down due to a war injury, Sir Clifford Chatterley (Shane Briant) urges his wife, Constance (Kristel), to take a lover to satisfy her physical needs. But when she begins an intense affair with a man of shockingly lower class – the virile and rugged gamekeeper Mellors (Nicholas Clay) – the unexpected stirring of passions will rock not only the Chatterleys’ marriage, but all of society as well.


Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1981) 7.0

eyelights: Sylvia Kristel. the locations.
eyesores: the lack of heat between the lovers. the dubbing. the editing.

“Don’t ever forget I love you.”

After making ‘Emmanuelle‘ together back in 1974, director Just Jaeckin and star Sylvia Kristel had a falling out. He went off to make ‘Histoire d’O‘ and a few others while she starred in a number of movies, including sequels to their landmark erotic motion picture.

Now, I’m no great fan of ‘Emmanuelle’, Kristel or Jaeckin, but ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ is one of those movies that made a splash on home video when it came out – much in the same way that ‘9 1/2 Week’ did. It was one of those movies that we all heard had to be seen.

Ahem… you know, for the naughty bits.

Naturally, I had no idea that it was based on a D.H. Lawrence classic – which, to this day, I have not read. But I was young enough to want to see anything remotely sexy (how times have changed!) and this was one of the few movies that was available almost anywhere.

It took years before I first saw it, given that it was R-rated, but when I finally did I was very disappointed. In fact, I recall being rather bored with it, truth be told. I even watched it a second time, many years later, just to give another chance (you never know).

Alas, I was still bored.

And the same can be said now. Though it’s a lovely production, Jaeckin’s ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ is an emotionally-barren affair, trading in lust instead of in passion. It’s an erotic motion picture that is content with being visually pretty instead of being affecting.

The thing is, the best erotica stimulates the mind first before stimulating the eyes; it knows that the brain is the biggest and most powerful sex organ. That is greatest distinguishing factor between erotica and pornography, which typically has no heart or passion.

That’s not to say that ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ is pornographic or tasteless; it’s very tastefully done (as stipulated by Kristel’s contract). And it’s not unerotic, either; it certainly has its moments. It’s just that we should have felt the lovers’ fire burn intensely.

But we didn’t.

It’s not for lack of trying: the picture has its fair share of sex scenes between Constance and Olivier. Most are pretty basic, with the lovers humping wildly for 40 or so seconds, putting it in and pumping briefly before their “passion” for each other is spent.

I mean I understand that the Brits were never reputed for their lovemaking (the stuffy upper classes probably even less so!), but you’d think that a movie that wants to turn on its audience would take some artistic license and show them truly savouring each another.

It takes most of the picture to get to one such lovely scene, which is by then less erotic than romantic, as the two lovers spend a complete night together, permitting themselves to be more playful. And, even then, one has to find naked bodies in and of themselves erotic.

And the bodies are rather lovely, it must be said. While Kristel was older, she was actually much more mature, more elegant, more attractive than ever. And Nicholas Clay, who plays Oliver, had a buff, nicely sculpted body, which is very much put on display to enjoy.

Sadly, their performances are of the B-movie variety, as is the rest of the cast. At no point are you moved by any of them or convinced that these are literary figures made flesh. It doesn’t help that they were all overdubbed; everything sounded recorded in a studio.

It all felt artificial; you couldn’t immerse yourself in the period with the characters.

I couldn’t help but think, as I watched this, that Merchant Ivory would have made a splendid version; they would have done this correctly. Having said this there were two things that I really enjoyed in this picture: the setting and the initial exchanges between the Chatterleys.

  • The setting is Wrotham Park, a huge 18th century English country house in Hertsmere, Hertfordshire. While the outside architecture is bland, its size impresses. And inside? Well, it’s absolutely jaw-dropping. I could have spent the whole movie just exploring it.
  • The exchanges between Constance and Clifford were significant, because I found it very mature how they could openly discuss the matter of his newfound paralysis and how he couldn’t be the lover she needed him to be. I liked that he would allow her to take a lover on the side.

I naturally didn’t like when it all devolved, when his jealousy took hold and he became far less understanding – and a jerk. He set it up, but it seemed as though he had done it to be kind – that deep down he was hoping that she wouldn’t take him up on his offer.

Or such was my interpretation. We would never actually know for sure – I think you need to read the book for that.

Then again, this picture was intended to titillate, not stimulate critical thought. But it’s a picture that’s simply not subtle enough in its approach, down to its heavy-handed score and the abrupt editing of many scenes. Perhaps it’s a product of its era. I’m not sure.

In any case, ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ lacks the sumptuous beauty of ‘Histoire d’O’ and the freshness of “Emmanuelle’, leaving it genuinely unaffecting. Though Kristel has said that it was the best picture that she’s ever done, it doesn’t exactly succeed in its intentions.

For passion, look elsewhere.

Story: 7.25
Acting: 6.5
Production: 7.0

Nudity: 3.0
Sexiness: 3.0
Explicitness: 3.0

Date of viewing: October 11, 2016

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