DH Lawrence's novels may be tough to translate to the screen, so much of his writing is dependent on the words on the page as they form images of extraordinary beauty and sensuality. His novels are quintessentially British and reflect on the dehumanizing effects of modernity and industrialization, confronting issues relating to emotional health and vitality, spontaneity, sexuality, and human instinct. During his lifetime he was even labeled a pornographer, but that was then and now is now, and under the gifted guidance of director/writer (with Roger Bohbot and Pierre Trividic) Pascale Ferran, Lawrence's exquisite tale of sexual awakening has found what for this viewer is the finest transition of the novel to the screen.
The place is England after WW I and Sir Clifford Chatterley (Hippolyte Girardot) is the paraplegic wealthy husband of Constance/Lady Chatterley (a radiant Marina Hands). Quite apropos for the era, Constance tends to her impotent husband, does needlepoint, and takes walks to while away her boredom. On one of her walks she encounters the gamekeeper Parkin (Jean-Louis Coullo'ch), seeing a partially nude man for the first time in her life. The impact awakens her somnolent sexuality and she manages to visit Parkin daily, gradually allowing her lust to unfold. Parkin is 'below her class' but is a masculine, sensuous embodiment of everything Constance has never experienced. They slowly bond and both of them become passionately in love, finding lovemaking in Parkin's hut, in the woods, in the rain - wherever they encounter. Constance wants to have a baby and convinces Clifford that she can become impregnated and the resulting child would be 'Clifford's' by pact. Constance travels to London, the Riviera, and other ports, only to return home believing that Parkin has reclaimed his ex-wife. But there are many surprises that greet her and the manner in which the story resolves (in Ferran's hands) leaves us unsure of the future.
The film is captured amidst the beauties of the natural world - flowers, trees, springs, brooks - and these aspects of the natural world are an influential part of Constance's sexual awakening. Yes, there are scenes of complete nudity and love making but they are photographed so well by
Julian Hirsch that they become an integral part of the story. The musical score by Béatrice Thiriet finds the right quality of elegance and sensuality. If there is a problem with this nearly three-hour film it is in the editing by Yann Dedet and Mathilde Muyard that takes liberties with scene transitions that prove disruptive.
But it would be hard to imagine two actors who could match the subtlety and sexual tension that Marina Hands and Jean-Louis Coullo'ch to this film. It is breathtakingly beautiful to experience DH Lawrence's story in the hands of the French crew and cast. Grady Harp, December 07