|A FilmExposed Film Review
Lady Chatterley (Lady Chatterley et l’homme des bois) (18)
Dir: Pascale Ferran, 2006, France, 168mins, French with subtitles
Cast: Marina Hands, Jean-Louis Coulloc’h, Hippolyte Girardot
In approaching D.H. Lawrence’s infamous chef-d'œuvre, director Pascale Ferran was judicious enough to realise the magnitude of such a task: “it’s a masterpiece and also a work of erotic literature, which makes it very daunting…” The mountain of awards showered upon the film has therefore vindicated Ferran’s conscientious attitude; in particular, this year’s Césars favoured the production.
Essentially a TV movie (it was broadcast on French television in June), it was always destined for cinema release as well, albeit in an abridged form. And even though the shorter running time is a whopping 168 minutes, it’s some achievement that the measured pace of the narrative doesn’t inhibit the spectator’s interest in the storyline and characters. This is a period film that unravels at ‘period pace’ while dealing with ‘period Englishness’ in all its emotionally uptight manifestations. Crucially it’s executed with a subtlety that demonstrates a penetrating understanding of the source text.
Adapted from the second version of Lawrence’s 1928 novel – published in England as John Thomas and Lady Jane (although not printed here until 1960 due to its having been banned) and in France as Lady Chatterley et l’homme des bois (Lady Chatterley and the Man of the Woods) – Lady Chatterley details the growing relationship between the young Constance Chatterley (Hands) and her husband’s groundsman, Oliver Parkin (Coulloc’h), that begins in 1921. Paralysed in the First World War, Clifford Chatterley (Girardot) begins to neglect his young wife, forcing her to search for happiness elsewhere.
As the second of three versions – Lawrence was accustomed to rewriting his completed works afresh – Ferran believed it to be the most tender in its depiction of two lovers whose relationship is forged in private against insurmountable social distinctions. And to her credit, Ferran has maintained that sense of tenderness by anchoring it to her protagonist’s characterisation. There’s a profound connection drawn between Constance’s ‘feminine nature’ and the natural environment (which, admittedly, may seem trite to some): the debilitating effect of Constance’s static, uneventful existence within the confines of her husband’s stately home is overcome by the empowering force of the external natural environment, of which Parkin is a potent symbol. This ‘feminine nature’ also extends to this great hulk of a man, humiliated and criticised during childhood by a mother who detected in him ‘signs of femininity’, it’s a desolate scene in which he intimates to Constance his lifelong sense of inadequacy (whereby his ‘feminine quality’ represents a deficiency in contrast to ‘masculine wholeness’). As a consequence perniciously introverted, Parkin's stunted emotional world is revitalised by Constance’s compassion: in sharing her love of the unfettered outdoors, his journey towards accepting her – his hierarchical superior – should fill even the most stonyhearted of spectators with warmth.
This complex tale of female passion and proaction, of male insecurity and impassivity, of the conflict between the natural world – sexuality and the body – and patriarchal progressiveness –industry and the mind – has received a delicate treatment in Lady Chatterley of which Lawrence would surely have been proud.