Synopsis: From Ken Russell, the incendiary director of Women in Love and Altered States, comes a retelling of the literary classic that spawned the most celebrated obscenity trial of the 20th century. In adapting the famous tale of unbridled passion, Ken Russell has made a moving love story and one of the most talked about television dramas of the 1990s. Joely Richardson (Return to Me, The Affair of the Necklace) stars as the young, sexually repressed Lady Chatterley, whose paralyzed husband (James Wilby, Gosford Park) urges her to find fulfilment and an heir for his fortune in the arms of another man. Sean Bean (Patriot Games, GoldenEye) is the lowly gamekeeper whose scandalous attentions awaken her senses.
Lady Chatterley 6.75
eyelights: Shirley Anne Field. Sean Bean. the lavish mansion and property. its dialogues about class divisons.
eyesores: its discrepant score. Natasha Richardson’s performance. its lack of heat.
“I shall always be yours in the woods.”
I should love ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’. I really should. Though I haven’t read D.H. Lawrence’s various stories, on which the movies are based, his tale of love and lust is timeless: it tells of a love affair between Lady Chatterley and her gamekeeper, Oliver Mellors, after Sir Chatterley returns from the Great War paralyzed from the waist down.
Somehow, though, it doesn’t move me. I’ve seen Just Jaeckin’s 1983 motion picture, and I’ve recently watched the 2006 adaptation, but neither did anything for me. And, sadly, this 1993 BBC four-part mini-series by Ken Russell somehow also leaves me cold. I’d seen it once before, but I’d hope that time would have given a different perspective on it.
It’s not entirely unenjoyable, naturally: the setting is gorgeous, having been shot on location at Gaddesden Place, a large manor in Hertfordshire, England; I love the architecture and the furnishings. And there’s the lovely Joely Richardson, in all her porcelain beauty, as Constance Chatterley, as well as the ever-smouldering Sean Bean as Mellors.
But it’s not enough.
There’s simply too little heat between Richardson and Bean; they go through the motions, but you don’t really feel the passion between them. I blame Richardson, who looks and plays the part, but can’t seem to bare Constance’s emotions in a convincing fashion. Though she’s easy on the eyes, and one wants to like her, her Conbie is two-dimensional.
She and Bean have some sweet moments together, of course, and they look good together, but Richardson comes off as girlish more so than sexy, impeding their scenes. While the playfulness, like the naked run in the rain, comes across very well, their lovemaking is often detached, serviceable – as though the characters were merely scratching an itch.
Plus which their affair is stormy, always running from hot to cold.
It did nothing for me.
I did, however, enjoy the discussions about class divisions this time, something that I had disliked in previous adaptations. It seemed to fit the story better here, perhaps because it took a nearly equal part to the love affair. Plus which Sir Clifford’s musings about class divisions put him on the opposite side from Constance right at the onset of the series.
So when he goes out to break up a strike at the mine, when he looks down on Mellors, it makes much more sense this time. It also adds a layer of tension because we know that he probably wouldn’t react well to the fact that Constance is… ahem… fraternizing with someone from a lower class – and that his potential heir may very well be from that union.
Poor classist pig.
Having said this, I liked that Clifford loves Constance so much that he gives her the freedom to have the experiences he can no longer give her; he tries to be understanding of her sexual needs, hoping that her heart will remain his in the end. I found this very noble of him, given that he could easily have expected her to repress her innate desires.
I would like to think that I’d have done the same.
So, for that reason, I respect Clifford.
And I feel for him, as he sees Constance’s attention diverting from him to her newfound love. She’s discreet about it, merely spending a lot more time outside, “going for walks” in the woods, but her devotion to Clifford’s needs wavers. So he soon decides to get a caring nurse to fill Constance’s shoes, allowing Connie the latitude that she needs.
My, how it must have stung to watch her slip away…
You can feel the disappointment and resentment boiling under the surface, but he tries to be proper. He even tries to keep a lid on his jealousy when he realizes that she has indeed taken a lover. He even tells Constance that he would like her to give him an heir, even though the child wouldn’t be his own; he has to swallow his pride to grant her this.
Conversely, he’s incredibly stubborn: Constance tries to seduce him, doing a naked dance of the veils for him, but he rebuffs her advances. Stupid git. If he had even an ounce of imagination and the courage to get over his vanity, he could have had a lot of fun with Connie, perhaps even found ways to pleasure her that would have kept her satisfied.
Instead, he set in motion the wheels that would carry her away from him.
Of course, all of this may be due to English propriety, these unwritten rules of conduct that dictated their behaviour then; perhaps Clifford wanted something other than what he was expressing. In fact, one always gets the impression that there’s subtext, something left unsaid between he and Constance – and this silence is driving them apart.
One thing I find interesting about this adaptation is the role that Ms. Bolton plays here: she seemed to be deriving pleasure from the growing rift between the Chatterleys, calculatingly inching her way into Cliff’s life as Constance drifts away. And yet, she empathizes with Connie, telling her about the deep connection she had with her deceased spouse.
Interestingly, it leaves one uncertain as to whether or not she was an ally or a foe. Was she as ambiguous in the books, or was this a product of the adaptation? Maybe she was both a rival and a friend to Constance? In any event, Shirley Anne Field was superb in the part, investing in Ms. Bolton nuances that none of the other characters would enjoy.
She’s really terrific.
Aside for the lack of heat and Richardson’s unconvincing turn, the other main problem with this mini-series is Barry Wordsworth’s score – not because it’s terrible, but because it’s missing. Due to copyright issues, it was stripped from the DVD release and, in its stead, some library music took its place – UTTERLY DISCREPANT, JARRING library music.
Now, I understand that this legal Hell wasn’t in the DVD producers’ control, but whoever picked and edited the score should be taken out and shot. Firstly, unless you know that the score has been altered, you’d be prone to blaming Wordsworth – though it’s not his cues. Secondly, I’m sure that there is much better music that could have been used here.
Even familiar classical pieces would have been better than this.
There’s really no excuse.
I actually believe that the music might have made a difference with ‘Lady Chatterley’; given its period and setting, a gorgeous score might have added lushness, maybe even a little sexiness, to the proceedings. Sadly, this adds an extra layer of remove to the ones already produced by the leads’ performances, muting the impact of this literary classic.
I really should love ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’.
But I don’t even like ‘Lady Chatterley’.
Date of viewing: July 15-19, 2017