Charming and charming young actor Emma Corrin definitely has a soft spot for unwisely married characters.
We were horrified when Corrin’s lovely, love-hungry Diana married Charles on “The Crown,” knowing the heartbreak that awaited us. We knew that Styles’ character was already in a passionate relationship with a man.
And now we see Corrin as the shining bride again at the beginning of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover,” a new adaptation of the once scandalous 1928 novel by DH Lawrence, and ushering in another grief-stricken union. After all, the story is called “Lady Chatterley’s Lover”, not “Lady Chatterley’s Husband”.
And yet unlike those first two characters, Corrin pretty much gets Lady Chatterley what she wants, ultimately in a version tailored for 21st century views of female empowerment, if not the #MeToo era, then at least. Directed by Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre and written by David Magee, this new “Chatterley” aims to tell the well-known story of an upper-class woman’s scandalous affair—who broke through class barriers to achieve sexual pleasure and romantic love. From her point of view, it shows a woman fighting tooth and nail for control of both her body and her life, strongly believing she deserves both.
Lawrence’s novel may have been shocking when it was published—most notably the subject of a major obscenity lawsuit in Britain—but now it’s not shocking, no matter how candid the sex scenes. Therefore, any adaptation needs more than heavy objects, no matter how attractive, to distinguish it.
And the best it has is Corrin, who is deftly supported by her co-star Jack O’Connell as Oliver Mellors, the handsome but sensitive keeper of the Chatterley estate. From that refreshing smile in the first scene, Corrin draws us in with a vitality that only deepens as the two-hour run progresses. Yes, Corrin looks gorgeous in Emma Fryer’s gorgeous period (and still somehow ephemeral) costumes, following the evolving mood and spirit of young Lady Chatterley. But basically it is a performance that radiates emotional intelligence, spirit, and especially the drive – the drive to live, the love drive, the experience drive.
We meet Constance Reid for the first time on Lord Chatterley’s wedding day as she happily poses for photographs and is excited for the future. But this is the middle of World War I, and after a rushed wedding night, her new husband (Matthew Duckett excels in a challenging role) goes to the front. When he returned six months after the end of the war, he was paralyzed from the waist down, forever the hallmark of the war. The couple settles in the sprawling country estate of Wragby, and Constance takes on her wife’s duties, such as washing, dressing and taking care of her husband.
But Connie, as her family calls her, soon finds herself struggling through long days in the countryside. She misses the city life and resents her husband’s insensitivity to her workers. She takes restless walks and soon finds herself in the shed where Oliver is playing. They start a conversation. Soon, they attack much more.
Any “Chatterley” must find a way to convey the transformative effect of sexual passion on Connie, a passion that changes the course of her life. Corrin and O’Connell are great actors that make us believe in their chemistry. But there is a strange directorial choice here, bathing the lovers with a gray-blue light during their meeting, almost as if trying to hide them, other scenes are presented in the bright light of sunny days and green fields. Not the most compelling way of portraying desire, it gives processes a clinical quality.
In any case, passion evolves from lust to love, doomed to die even though it absolutely has to be, and Connie soon suspects she’s pregnant. Still, Oliver wasn’t the man he had in mind when Lord Chatterley cold-bloodedly suggested that he secretly hire a man to help his wife conceive an heir to the Chatterley name, as Chatterley himself could not do that. And Connie soon has different ideas. She wants a child, yes, but she also wants a divorce. And he wants Oliver.
While the plot may sound familiar, those who remember the book will find the ending different in important ways. However, the qualities Corrin brought to a famous character remain in memory – fortitude, intelligence and determination that he deserves personal satisfaction. To call this a feminist approach to the novel may be exaggerating. But an exciting talent we’ll undoubtedly watch for years to come, Corrin gives us reason to turn on dusty skin and rethink.
“Lady Chatterley’s Lover,” a Netflix release, was rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for strong sexual content, graphic nudity, and some language. “ Execution time: 126 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.
R’s MPAA definition: Restricted. Requires under 17, accompanying parent or adult guardian.