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Kristin Scott Thomas,
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Sir Clifford has returned from the Great War to his estate near Sheffield, paralyzed from the waist down. Lady Constance, his young wife, cares for him, but she's lifeless, enervated. Her physician prescribes the open air, and she finds a quiet retreat at the hut - the workplace - of Parkin, the estate's gamekeeper. The rhythms of nature awaken Connie - daffodils, pheasant chicks - and soon she and Parkin become lovers. She's now radiant. Parkin, too, opens up. Class distinctions and gender roles may be barriers to the affair becoming more. Connie's trip to France, with her father and sister, bring the lovers to a nuanced resolution. Written by
Considering the giant steps taken by cinema since the sixties, it's been a long wait for the real Lady C on her way to the big screen. Prurient or bland have been the previous attempts: Japan and Italy have had goes, Sylvia "Emmanuelle" Kristel starred predictably enough in a strictly 'B' version, and Ken Russell, who had had success with 'Women In Love', directed an out-of-character watered-down serial for television.
As it's a woman's story, it makes sense for a woman to direct it, and even more, to make a success of it. Ferran has taken an unknown, or forgotten earlier version of the novel, "John Thomas and Lady Jane" as the basis of her film.
It has been described as being less polemical than the final version, but it works well, in emphasising how active Constance Chatterley was in her striving for a better life, and in showing how she came to identify herself with the socialist struggle. In 1959, during the Penguin Books/Chatterley obscenity trial, it was infamously asked if this was the kind of book one would wish one's wife or servants to read. That has always been good for a laugh, if it was only about sex - but it was political. Sex and politics: a combination we now take for granted, but despite the few years since female emancipation, the combination was yet unthinkably hairy for the Fifties.
The novel itself was excessively wordy, often risibly so, with Lawrence's male-oriented phallus-worshipping view of the world to the fore. When the gamekeeper Parkin (Jean-Louis Coilloc'h, bearing a remarkable resemblance to Brando in 'Streetcar') reveals to Lady C, his worries about being too sensitive and perhaps too womanly, we hear the author's voice. By adding capitals to every part of the story, the director has made a film that could easily be followed as a silent: 'The House', The Forest', The Cabin', The Miners' But replacing words with action, especially in the sex scenes, allows the intimacy and passion to live on, without the anachronistic wordplay and modes of speech which now distance us from the lovers. Plenty of time, too, is given to watching a girlishly clumsy Constance (Marina Hands) explore the forests and streams surrounding the House; also to the contrast with her bucolic little paradise when she is driven into town and sits in her car, her gaze lingering on more 'real men' as they emerge, begrimed, from the mine. Such a contrast, made in such visual terms, remains in the air when Sir Clifford (Hippolyte Girardot) jokes about the miners striking every winter, and Connie doesn't laugh. It's important to remember that the airs and graces put on by upper-class married couples were partly to avoid losing face in front of the servants; Sir Clifford is not the only stiff and distant husband in his world, and the supporting of attitudes and beliefs by corsets and tweeds was aped by the aspiring middle classes (as in 'Brief Encounter') until wars, jazz, rock 'n' roll, 'certain books' and the satire boom moved the concentration of gravity to The Whitehouse, Saudi Arabia and the Taliban's favourite cave.
The problem of getting a whole novel on-screen concurrently with a film in its own right has been solved by the use of intertitles, the director doing a voice-over; and the Lady's trip to France has been slotted in as a home movie, while Parkin's misadventures back home are covered in a letter from Sir Clifford's nurse (Anne Benoit), who tells it straight to camera. These changes in texture help to keep the pace up in this quite long film, just as earlier cuts are often a tranquil old-fashioned 'fade to black', to denote the passing of time.
Again; the scenes of intimacy are well told: they are acted and filmed in a manner which fools us into believing we are flies on the wall. There is no concentration on the 'plumbing' as there is with too much on-screen sex, and just a few fully-clothed scenes, a few words and minimal choreography are all it needs to put over the spirit of the novel, the return to the garden and the grace and honest beauty of making love.
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