Lady Chatterley’s Lover, 2022.
Directed by Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre.
Starring Emma Corrin, Jack O’Connell, Matthew Duckett, Joely Richardson, Ella Hunt, Faye Marsay, Nicholas Bishop, Anthony Brophy, Eugene O’Hare, Rachel Andrews, Jonah Russell, Sandra Huggett, Ellie Piercy, Rachel Pedley, Zoé Wallon, Marianne McIvor, Holly Dennis, and Christopher Jordan.
An unhappily married aristocrat begins a torrid affair with the gamekeeper on her husband’s country estate.
Barely knowing each other as Lady Chatterley’s Lover begins, aristocrat Clifford Chatterley (Matthew Duckett) and commoner Connie Reid (Emma Corrin) wed. Almost immediately after, Clifford is shuffled off to the Great War, where he returns injured without leg mobility. It’s not a dealbreaker yet for Connie, who sincerely tries to adapt her vision of this marriage, taking on a combination role of lover and caretaker. The latter sees her spirited and optimistic regarding getting more efficient in assisting Clifford dress and undressing. Maybe it won’t be so bad after all.
Aside from building up unsatisfied sexual cravings that Clifford possesses no interest in fulfilling (which is somewhat ironic given Connie’s wiser and protective sister suggested he might only want to marry for pleasure) that he could at least try to meet regardless of being wheelchair-bound (he could get creative about it if he wanted to, but only seems to care about sex when it’s for conceiving an heir), this newfound wealth of free time to get to know each other better at his estate (complete with a new servant staff) also reveals that Clifford is a bit of a ruling class asshole without sympathy for anyone lower on the totem pole, especially the miners breaking their backs daily on his behalf.
In what initially comes across as progressive and forward-thinking, Clifford suggests Connie take a man of her choosing for sex. However, there are some caveats: his idea comes from a place of selfishness and wanting a child, with little concern for how any of this makes Connie feel. He’s not introducing something polyamorous to help his wife’s sexual frustrations but scheming for personal gain. Then, he also lays down some ground rules on what kind of men are okay to sleep with while stressing that he wants to be kept in the dark about who it is. The man also absolutely can’t be gamekeeper Oliver Mellors (Jack O’Connell), who he deems a degenerate and beneath her economically and socially.
As it turns out, Oliver is charming, intellectual, attractive, and lonely for reasons that somewhat mirror Connie, bringing them closer together. It’s to be appreciated that director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre (previously having worked on underappreciated gem prison-set horse bonding drama The Mustang) and screenwriter David Magee (a wise choice to adapt the novel from D.H. Lawrence, as he can funnel his previous fable-centric work on projects like Finding Neverland into similarly dreamy material albeit bursting with passionate sex here) takes time heightening the sexual tension, even if it gets to the point where one is begging for these two to fuck already.
It’s not long before Connie and Oliver finally make love for the first of many times, at one point (exquisitely photographed by Benoît Delhomme), embracing nude on the grass as if they are Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (not that the film has any religious connotations whatsoever, just that it’s the imagery that came to mind). Further pleasant is that the filmmakers don’t hold back, allowing the intimacy to be steamy and graphic (the lovemaking starts off plain, quickly becoming rougher and more risqué).
After one of the aforementioned sessions, there is also a brief glimpse of Connie giggling and happily assisting Oliver to get dressed, making for a subtle, ingenious juxtaposition to her efforts doing the same thing for her husband but inside of a caretaker position. Some characters understandably assume Connie confuses sex with love, but at this moment, it becomes evident that perhaps if Clifford focused on her happiness and needs while also not being a heartless and unforgiving jerk to anyone beneath him, maybe she would be able to smile while dressing him the same way. Or perhaps it’s just a juxtaposition of love and lust. Either way, it’s undeniable proof that there’s much going on here visually, adding greater context to a relatively simple tale of adultery.
It’s not perfect by any means, as the characterization of Clifford still feels a bit too villainy and one-dimensional. His hired caretaker Mrs. Bolton (Joely Richardson, formerly having played the titular role), is more than willing to perform those duties, except it’s met with contention since it’s not Connie. Meanwhile, Emma Corrin and Jack O’Connell sizzle with emotional complexity as Lady Chatterley’s Lover also explores the risks and messages it sends to the general public if this true love affair comes to light.
Some appear willing to shame Connie, while others see her as a woman willing to risk her privilege and social class for love. As for viewers, they should find themselves swept up in this steamy and complicated entanglement.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at [email protected]