06 January 2010

Lady Chatterley's Lover (1981)

Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Again.
By Leigh Wood

So, I’m up late at night with no satisfying porn-er film- to be had-until the 1981 version of Lady Chatterley’s Lover comes on. Shorter and a little more uninvolved than Ken Russell’s 1993 adaptation, this version suffers from weak casting and bad styling more than anything else.

After Sir Clifford Chatterley (Shane Briant) is injured in the war and returns home paralyzed, his young marriage to Connie (Sylvia Kristel) strains. Though Clifford gives Connie permission to seek an upper-class lover, she herself becomes sick with the burdens of the household and her husband’s illness. When Mrs. Bolton (Ann Mitchell) comes to the estate to nurse the Baronet, she also suggests ‘fresh air and healthy activity’ for Connie. It’s a prescription that leads Lady Chatterley towards her husband’s strong and brutish gamekeeper Mellors (Nicholas Clay).

This quick version directed by Just Jaeckin (The Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of the Yik Yak) shapes the scandalous but celebrate novel by D.H. Lawrence to its bare bones-eliminating excessive lovers, friends, places, and events. The relatively important roles of Connie’s Father and sister Hilda are largely absent-with the latter not even appearing until the final ten minutes. Some back-story is added to the front of the picture at least, showing us a briefly happy Chatterley home and Clifford’s injuring battle action. Most of Jaeckin, Marc Behm (Help!), and Christopher Wicking’s (The Oblong Box) screenplay is faithful to the novel, but not many of the book’s lines survive in the dialogue. Pity, for some of the heartfelt dialogue could have gone a long way in double duty for the short time.

Lady Chatterley's Lover (1981) ( L' Amant de lady Chatterley ) ( Lady Chatterley's Liebhaber ) [ NON-USA FORMAT, PAL, Reg.2 Import - Netherlands ]Sylvia Kristel (Emmanuelle, Mata Hari) carries the talent and presence of the educated and aristocratic Connie Chatterley, but her performance suffers from a bad hairstyle and bland, almost modern costumes. There is a decided lack of passion and chemistry among the leads, but I don’t feel its Kristel’s fault. She is like Connie, trying to break out, free herself from the constraints of time, script, and bad sex. Nevertheless, we get the feeling that this is just a sexual relationship with no consequences. Unlike the book, we never feel that this is the love of Lady Chatterley’s life that’s worth risking love and title over. Thankfully, Briant’s (The Children of Huang Shi) Sir Clifford and Ann Mitchell (Widows) as Mrs. Bolton are delightfully creepy, crusty, and pasty. Somehow, the style and makeup on Briant make him look the stereotypical pot faced and bad teethed Englishman despite his title. Likewise, his kinky intimacy with the gray haired and much older Mrs. B strays the fine line of medicine and something gross. In a way, however, this is the more interesting relationship in this Lady Chatterley’s Lover. I’d rather keep my watch on Wragby and see how naughty these two get it on.

Mock my love of Sean Bean if you must, but Nicholas Clay (Excalibur) and his Mellors can’t hold a candle to Bean’s 1993…performance. Clay’s Indiana Jones-esque Mellors hardly talks and looks completely out of character with his trench coat, fedora, and little Hitler mustache amid the English countryside. Outside of some quick and wet full frontal male nudity, the sex scenes are also weak. The best kinky scene might be a quick masturbation montage; I don’t know from where the television warning of rape and strong sexual content stems. So what if there’s full frontal male inches for five seconds. Big deal! The female nudity is tame, too. Most of the sex is actually clothed-and apparently, it’s winter. We spend more time taking of the wool hats, scarves, coats, and gloves before we get to anything remotely steamy!

Lady Chatterley’s Lover suffers not only from a lack of chemistry among the cast, but some bad costumes and set design. If it wasn’t for the lack of cars and television, one might thing this took place in the seventies. Connie’s dresses, bob, cute caps and flowing fur capes are entirely too eighties and look as Edwardian as Love Story. Likewise, Mellors looks like an American cowboy ready to crack the whip at some cattle. More amusing, however, is that the same grand English house, Wrotham Park, serves as Wragby Hall here and in the 1993 Ken Russell miniseries. It’s the same house, yes, but it looks very different- too eighties antique, cluttered and overdressed. With so much junk lining the halls, how in the heck could Clifford even move about in his wheelchair?

It’s understandable due to its ninety-minute restrictions, but Jaeckin gives us a very rushed ending. Though closer to the book than some happier Hollywood endings, the thin treatment in getting there taints Lady Chatterley’s Lover. So, Connie leaves her husband. Well that’s a big duh, isn’t it? For all the supposedly passionate, lovey dovey scenes it doesn’t seem like there is enough time and wanton hedonism here for this to be anyone’s great, spectacular love affair. The quick action and obvious ending make this special novel seem merely common, boring, and no big deal.

I dare say that overall Lady Chatterley’s Lover is actually tame enough for the mature and literary college classroom. Perhaps a quick edit or censor of the nudity would be warranted if you must. Shocking as this may seem, I’ve seen far more scandalous sex and nudity in contemporary American film. Perhaps it’s not as dynamic as other adaptations, but fans of D.H. Lawrence and the books can take the good here and compare-for scholarly purposes or just kinky viewing. Otherwise, this Lady Chatterley’s Lover is too anti-climatic for me.

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