Film Review: “Lady Chatterley”

Photograph of Jean-Louis Coulloc’h and Marina Hands in the film Lady Chatterley

I don’t normally review films. But this isn’t so much a review of the new Lady Chatterley but a review of the audience.

The film is based on D H Lawrence’s 1927 book John Thomas and Lady Jane, the first and less-well-known version of the story which was re-written as the controversial Lady Chatterley’s Lover and published in 1928.

Controversial? Oh yes! Explicit sex scenes, four-letter words, and perhaps the most scandalous aspect: the love affair was between an aristocratic woman and a gamekeeper. Crossing class boundaries! England shall fall! Read all about it.

Now you may think that society has changed since 1927. But no, our audience proved otherwise.

’Pong and I missed the first few minutes of this very long film: 161 minutes. The first shot we saw was Lady Chatterley walking down a corridor. A long corridor. Footstep after dreary footstep. With no dialogue. “Great,” I thought. “It’s one of those arty French films where Everything Is Extremely Meaningful.” But fortunately it settled down, and Pascale Ferran’s direction creates a beautiful environment in which the love affair unfolds.

If you want a proper review, you can read Margaret Pomeranz. She did find it tedious — but she’s also read Lady Chatterley’s Lover and thought it was a masterpiece. I hadn’t, so I came to this film as a film, not as a re-working of Great Literature.

What intrigued me was the sex — or more particularly the audience’s reaction to it.

The whole point of the story is that an aristocratic woman discovers passion by bonking the gamekeeper. All very shocking in the 1920s and the book was subject to an obscenity charge when eventually published in the UK in 1960.

Times have changed a bit since then. Indeed this film is only rated M. You see a half-erect penis for about a second, a couple of breasts, and naked bodies intertwined on the floor of the gamekeeper’s hut.

But there’s a scene where Lady Chatterley delights in running naked in the rain — enjoying the sheer physicality. The gamekeeper strips off and follows her, and they laugh and giggle like children again. “Oh dear,” I heard from tut-tutting audience members. The couple runs through the forest, trip and fall — still naked — and get covered in mud. Again the tut-tut from the audience.

In another scene, the lovers intertwine spring flowers in each other’s bodies — including a few little blooms artfully placed in the good Lady’s pubic hair. And the audience giggles like nervous schoolgirls.

Now I will admit that our preview screening was for members of the Dymocks Booklover Loyalty Program. So maybe there’s an over-representation of eastern suburbs housewives with dull, passionless sex lives. But surely running naked in the rain isn’t that out of the ordinary? Surely lovers playing silly little games after sex isn’t unknown to them? Or are they still trapped in a time warp, where “a lady” shouldn’t engage in such an unseemly display?