Three and a half stars (NR)
For the most part, casual moviegoers don’t like surprises, unless they’re going to a movie advertised as having surprises. Surveys indicate that the majority of Americans prefer trailers that give away key plot points; that way they can decide whether or not they want to pay for the experience. Audiences don’t want to feel misled; they get upset when an action film turns out to be more contemplative than explosive, when a comedy turns out to be more quirky or grim than funny, when a film they expected to be in English turns out to be subtitled.
Now, I realize that you are not a casual moviegoer. No, you are a connoisseur whose refined tastes should be celebrated. That said, I have some information that I believe will help you to better appreciate the gentle Lady Chatterley.
First off, the film is adapted from John Thomas and Lady Jane, the second version of D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. There are marked differences between this and the third, most well-known version, particularly in the background of the lover. Second, though the story takes place in England, the film is French with English subtitles.
Third, while there are a half dozen sex scenes in the movie, each more revealing than the last, the accent is more on sensuality and character interplay than on hot and heavy action. Those looking for periodic displays of porn would be better served by renting something from the Adults Only section of the video store.
Finally, and most importantly, you need to be prepared to meet the filmmaker halfway. Director Pascale Ferran puts the story firmly in the context of nature. The countryside is as much a part of her film as the human beings. At two hours and 48 minutes, Lady Chatterley is full of pastoral vistas and features more evocative nature sounds than a box set of relaxation CDs. Ferran expects you to adjust to the leisurely pace of the movie. Those who resist will likely be bored to distraction. Those who cooperate will be rewarded.
Set in 1921, the story follows Constance Chatterley (Marina Hands), wife of Clifford (Hippolyte Girardot), a Cambridge graduate and mine owner who returned from the war in a wheelchair. The couple’s move from the city to the country leaves Constance with considerable time to explore the grounds. During one walk, she spies the estate gamekeeper Oliver Parkin (Jean-Louis Coulloc’h) washing his torso.
Slowly, ever so slowly, a relationship develops between the Mrs. Chatterley and Parkin. Class divisions are addressed, but this is primarily a story of discovery by two inarticulate souls. The acting is more physical than verbal and the actors are fine. Marina Hands looks exactly as you expect Lady Chatterley to look, and thankfully, director Ferran was smart enough to cast the bullish Coulloc’h as Parkin rather than some traditionally handsome, gym-sculpted type. Parkin looks like a working man and not an escapee from a soap opera.
So there you go. Lady Chatterley. Not great, but pretty good. More sensual than hubba-hubba sexual. In French with English subtitles. Nearly three hours long, but not dull — if you get into the contemplative mood. Consider yourself duly prepared.