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Emma Corrin Is A Caged Bird In Lady Chatterley’s Lover [Telluride Review]

Jan 9, 2023

TELLURIDE – Almost a century after its initial publication, D.H. Lawrence’s “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” is still captivating enough on the page to spur new cinematic and episodic adaptations every few years. In fact, there have been at least seven film versions in multiple languages (some more faithful than others) and two separate BBC incarnations created for the small screen alone. But for a novel banned for decades across the globe due to its sexual content, it’s never spurred a seminal film adaptation. In her follow-up to “The Mustang,” a celebrated Cannes debut, we’re said to inform you Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre hasn’t helmed that definitive version of the controversial tale, but she certainly found a way to push the limits of eroticism in a mainstream release.
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A world premiere at the 2022 Telluride Film Festival, this version of “Lady Chatterley” has been somewhat pared down from Lawrence’s original tome. Screenwriter David Magee keeps the focus almost squarely on our heroine, the title character Lady Constance Chatterley (Emma Corrin). We’re immediately informed that the London-based Constance lives an unconventional life for an English woman in the early 20th Century (some of which was thanks to her father’s profession as a “bohemian” artist), and early on her sister Hilda (Faye Marsay, giving very queer sister vibes) alludes to her affair with that one German boy who got away. It’s not the roaring 20s, but even in conservative British society, Constance had no qualms about losing her virginity before marriage.
The film opens, however, with her overly smitten with the dashing Sir Clifford Chatterley (Matthew Duckett, a little too close to twirling the mustache). They quickly marry before duty finds Ckuffird sent back to the front lines of the Great War, World War I. Constance’s fairy tale is pushed to the side when Clifford is injured in battle and loses the use of his legs. The couple moves to his family estate in the English countryside, with only a small provincial village nearby. It’s a solitary existence and a massive change for a young woman who embraced the energy of the big city. She tries to care for her husband, but the physical difficulties of attending to him all day and her increasing loneliness begin to take their toll. After Clifford spurs her sexual advances (we’ll assume because he can no longer himself, it’s not clear), the pair have a conversation about his desire for an heir. What if Constance could find another man to simply, do the deed? Clifford wouldn’t want to know the details but would be overjoyed to keep the family name alive. As you can easily guess, the film quickly descends into a “be careful what you wish for” scenario.
Constance isn’t necessarily planning on finding someone on their estate, but her infatuation with their gamekeeper, Oliver Mellors (Jack O’Connell, doing his best with the material) is something else entirely. And, as the months pass, their relationship transforms from combative to lustful to romantic. The film wants to portray him as seemingly unfit in the eyes of society to be with a woman of Constance’s status, but it’s a bit hard to believe. Especially since we’re reminded numerous times that Oliver had ascended to a Lt. rank while in the military. But, we digress…
While Clifford has become dependent on his former nanny Hilda (Joely Richardson, a savior) to do well, pretty much anything almost everyone else in the manor seems to be keeping tabs on where Constance is, how long her daily “walks” are, and her growing disinterest in her husband. Affairs are hard to keep secret when everyone is watching.
Even if you’ve never read “Lady Chatterley” you’re not necessarily going to be surprised about how the third act transpires. The novel may have been groundbreaking decades after its release for its eroticism, but the narrative itself is a tale as old as time. Whether you care if Constance and Oliver remain together is one of the strange disappointments in the film. Corrin and O’Connell don’t necessarily spark on screen together despite their talents and individual charisma. Although de Clermont-Tonnerre certainly attempts to create some heat.
Along with cinematographer Benoit Delhomme, the filmmaker does a beautiful job of allowing the camera to move throughout the frame, especially early in the film. So much so that this incarnation of “Lady Chatterley” often flows like it’s sailing on the wind. And, in so doing, Delhomme and de Clermont-Tonnerre appear to double down on capturing any sexual chemistry between the two characters. At one moment, Constance is frolicking naked in the rain like a joyous Drew Barrymore, convincing her lover to join her. And, close to the end of the picture, the two actors have a sexual encounter which, well, is refreshingly intense even in this day and age. Yes, de Clermont-Tonnerre pushes the limits of what we assume will be in an R-rated film. Whether that adds or distracts from the drama is likely an individual interpretation.
The biggest takeaway is that Corrin, who also stars in the upcoming “My Policeman,” undoubtedly proves they are the talent they were hyped to be. If you’re a fan of “The Crown” you quickly forget the hours they spent as Princess Diana on screen. Magee’s script doesn’t always give them enough material to play with, but Corrin runs with it and, most impressively, with a freedom that totally clicks with de Clermont-Tonnerre’s sensibilities. And yet, when the credits roll it feels like something is missing and, well, you somehow wish they’d pushed it even more.  [B-]
“Lady Chatterley’s Lover” is a Netflix release currently undated.
Follow along with all our coverage of the 2022 Telluride Film Festival.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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