The setting and subject matter of Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre’s second film couldn’t be more different from her first. But the contemporary drama The Mustang and the director’s interpretation of DH Lawrence’s age-old novel share a sensual physicality, an appreciation for skin and muscle—how bodies move, how they spar, how they intertwine. In the 2019 film, the beautiful bodies of Matthias Schoenaerts and a wild horse are; in Lady Chatterley’s loverEmma Corrin and Jack O’Connell steam up the screen like kindred spirits, ignited by carnal passion.
Lawrence was dismissed by many as a pornographer and his oft-adapted 1928 novel, his last, was banned for years in several countries as obscene. It then became part of the English enlightened canon. Ultimately, it would be dismissed as reactionary by Susan Sontag. Even in this narration, in which the intelligence of Corrin’s character and her urge for honest experience drive the narrative, and the spotlight is on the woman behind ‘milady’, there’s something old-fashioned about the all-encompassing romance – and it’s satisfying.
Lady Chatterley’s lover
It comes down to
Sharp, streamlined and sensual.
The film, which Netflix will take to theaters in November and to streaming the following month, is faithful to Lawrence’s idealization of sex and nature in invigorating ways. Screenwriter David Magee, whose screenplay for The life of Pi undermined the magic of an enchanting novel, and whose? Finding Neverland script fluctuated between exaggeration and slowness, finds its groove here with a clever streamlining of the source material that accentuates the positive, while preserving the book’s observations of class and above all, sensuality.
Corrin, who uses she/she pronouns, is known for their turn as Princess Diana on The crown, bringing jubilant modernity to their first major movie starring role. That’s perfectly in line with a story that unfolds at a time when Edwardian mores are dying, and whose central characters leap into the new era. O’Connell embodies a more refined and cerebral version of the title character, gamekeeper Oliver Mellors, than in many previous adaptations. Together, the actors create a relationship that is tender and thoughtful, but also lustful – true to Lawrence’s idea of harmony between mind and body, “a fair reverence for sex and a fair bit of awe for the strange experience of the body.”
The film opens during World War I as newlyweds Constance Reid (Corrin) and Sir Clifford Chatterley (Matthew Duckett) prepare for his return to the front. In a short time he is back home, with battle wounds that have left him paralyzed from the waist down and his bride, who is initially willing, turns into his sole caretaker at Wragby, his estate in the Midlands. They’d talked about having kids on their wedding night, and neither of them were really sensual, but now that Clifford is impotent and the issue of family legacy has been brought into sharp focus, he suggests she find someone else to get her pregnant , and they will raise the child as their own. Modern!
In dresses to die for (designed by Emma Fryer) and in every gesture, the strikingly self-assured Connie combines a bohemian sensibility with her newfound status as a wealthy man’s wife. She’s not blinded by comfort, though, and alarm bells are ringing loud and clear at the first sign of Clifford’s affectionate, controlling nature (although he has nothing to do with the central character of Clifford in that regard). El, a 1953 Luis Buñuel film that was screened in Telluride this year). Those signs revolve around the alarming words “Without you I’d be lost,” what you might call a threat disguised as gratitude. Apart from that, just as his wife embraces life with all that is in her, he expresses a certain nihilism and, worse, a heartless capitalist impulse when it comes to modernizing his family’s mines, his eye for efficiency but without particular attention to the miners.
The helmsman, back to work with The Mustang‘s editor, Géraldine Mangenot, certainly stacks the deck; it’s clear from the start that Clifford isn’t the one for Connie, no matter how devoted she is, how eagerly she types his novel, and how hopeful she does her best to adapt to their situation. She assures her skeptical sister, Hilda (Faye Marsay), that her groom is forward-thinking – and to some extent he proves to be with his unorthodox suggestion of starting a family. He plants a seed and the voluptuousness with which it blooms once Lady Chatterley meets Mellors startles the characters, but makes perfect sense.
O’Connell (Seberg) shows how shy the gamekeeper is after he returns from his stint as an army officer to a tattered marriage. He lives a solitary life in his stone cottage on the estate, reading Joyce and breeding pheasants (symbolism not to be ignored). In a beautifully acted scene, Connie holds a day-old chick in her hands and is overcome with emotion. From there, it’s off to the races, and frequent, immersive encounters in the woods.
Too many sex scenes in contemporary movies feel gratuitous in narrative terms or by heart; here the director and her actors strike chords of intense, unabashed mutual discovery, and Benoît Delhomme’s kinetic camera work, with its electrifying forward momentum, is in tune with the sparks, whether the setting is Wragby’s lush grounds or Karen’s interiors. Wakefield’s strong yet unobtrusive production design. (The feature film was shot in England, Wales and Italy.) The music of Isabella Summers (keyboard player with Florence and the Machine) enriches the love story with its rise and clash of strings and its melodic passages.
As for the folks around Lady Chatterley, Ms. Bolton, the caretaker who eventually relieves Connie of her nanny duties, still talks about the brutal death of her miner husband a quarter of a century earlier, as if it were last month. She is played by Joely Richardson, who played Lady Chatterley in Ken Russell’s 1993 BBC miniseries. Here she is subtle and moving as someone who clings to the past and, presumably, to social conventions. But when it comes down to it, Mrs. Bolton adjusts expectations, unlike Mrs. Flint (Ella Hunt), the schoolteacher who eagerly befriends Lady Chatterley, but doesn’t ignore the idea of respect for the middle class as rumors of Connie and Mellors. begin to circulate.
No less than love and sex, courage is at the heart of this iteration of Lady Chatterley’s lover. Secretly, Connie and Mellors, each still married to someone else, forge a partnership of equals—beyond their class differences, outside their roles as husband and wife. It’s the most idealistic idea in the story. “Are you afraid?” Connie asks Mellors shortly after they start. “I am,” he says without hesitation. Lady Chatterley has found her match.