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Is the Netflix Adaptation of Lady Chatterley’s Lover Worth Watching?

With the viewership that any season of Bridgerton brings Netflix, it was only a matter of time before they went looking for other literary options with steamy scenes to adapt from book to screen.

And the stupid obvious choice is D. H. Lawrence's notoriously sexy novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928). I’ve written about this book previously, explaining how this novel was challenged in court for its ‘lewd’ scenes and language (the prosecution even opened their argument by laying out how many times the book uses the “F word”). So, with a novel this scandalous as to of had an underground life until 1960, what would Netflix make of it?

Interestingly, we’ve had film adaptations of the book since 1955 (before the book was uncensored in the US or the UK!) and in 2022, with greater acceptance of sex scenes in film and TV scenes, there is no wonder that we’re seeing a revival now.

Who’s who?

Emma Corrin is our protagonist, Connie Reid. You’ll probably recognize them from The Crown as they played Princess Diana in season 4. They are not bashful in this role! But their portrayal of Connie is confident and their delivery of lines around class criticism are powerfully done.

Jack O'Connell is the ruggedly handsome love interest, groundskeeper Oliver Mellors. He has previously acted in the UK hit show Skins and the steamy 2017 film Tulip Fever (also based on a book by Deborah Moggach). There is no question why he cast in the quiet but tender, as we’re often reminded, match for Connie.

We get a relatively new actor in the role of Connie’s impotent husband: Matthew Duckett as Clifford Chatterley (who is picture perfect aristocracy with his moustache and tweed suits). And Joely Richardson plays his doting nurse, Mrs. Bolton. Richardson has been in other book-to-screen adaptations like 2022’s The Sandman, 2018 Red Sparrow, and 2014 Vampire Academy.

Is it true to the book?

While I wouldn’t consider Lawrence’s novel as one of my favourite classics, there are very interesting themes around class, masculinity, war/industry and nature that I was curious to see if they come out in the film. There is an ecocriticism lens to be applied to the book as the environ of Connie’s life is a mining town with visceral sights, sounds, and smells. Unfortunately, while we do get the mention of the mines, it doesn’t have the same clash between man and nature that we get in the book.

Key scenes and even lines from the book have been included in the film. However, like many book-to-screen adaptations, they have sped up the narrative by condensing key plot points. As mentioned above, the industry vs. nature is not fleshed out and we are also missing Oliver’s backstory. While his military career (and rank) are mentioned, they are not fully developed to show the watcher that he is very much considered socially ‘jumped up’ by those in the small town and is more of an intellectual equal to Connie.

In the book we get a third person omniscient narrator who takes up each character’s perceptions—Connie remains the most familiar to the reader. This is carried through in the first half of the film with the use of Connie’s voice over in the form of letters to her sister.

Is it worth watching?

The producers have likely cut these complex themes in order to focus much more on the love story which makes the film less serious and will ultimately appeal to a wider audience—and I will say their creative licence tweaks work. For example, how they use Mrs. Bolton in the film as more a friend than surrogate wife is well presented, and the use of music adds an upbeat aspect of the film. And while there are a few instances of shaky camera work that jar us out of the viewing experience, the sweeping scenes in nature are refreshing.

The focus on romance has also allowed the film to reinforce the key theme of women’s sexuality and the importance of intimacy in a relationship. Lawrence, ahead of his time, was often celebrated for ‘getting into the minds’ of female characters and this works very well for a modern audience. In both novel and film, Connie is a complex woman. She has her own views, and expresses them, and has sexual needs.

Plus: the fashion is something to see! Connie’s post-First World War dresses with light fabrics and feminine details are beautiful. And her sister’s jumpsuit for driving is delightful. Add to that the scenery of the estate (and, yes, the steamy sex sense) and it is worth a watch. With these added audio and visual elements, I think the film does more justice to the original material than I expected, even with the missing complexity of the original written work. While the ending feels a bit rushed, it is ultimately more concretely hopeful than the novel and will appeal to the romantics.

If you enjoyed the adaptation of Atonement or Downton Abbey, you’ll like this one. Just be prepared for more nudity!


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