Sunday, 15 March 2015

Lady Chatterley (2006)

Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.

That's what John Lennon said and I can certainly sympathise. 

Let me explain, I first knew of this 2006 French adaptation of DH Lawrence's classic and controversial novel Lady Chatterley's Lover (though it is actually an adaptation of Lawrence's 1927 novel John Thomas and Lady Jane which precedes LCL's first publication by one year) some time around 2009 I'm guessing, when I saw the DVD in the old HMV on Bold Street in Liverpool. A French take on an English classic immediately struck me as both strange and exotic, but then for the former I reasoned that we Brits (and our American cousins too) had adapted foreign literature  many times over, so why not vice versa? However, despite my piqued interest I did not purchase it that day - like a lot of euro cinema titles in HMV it was ridiculously overpriced at something like £20 and so I decided to keep an eye out for it rather than buy it.

Fast forward a couple of years and Lady Chatterley turned up on Film 4 in the wee small hours. I set my Sky+ to record it and subsequently copied it to disc. Given that I recorded the film complete with ad breaks I'm guessing this recording comes from late 2012 or early 2013 as there are ads for the then current cinema releases of Les Mis and Zero Dark Thirty

Time and time again, life - and other films - got in the way of me watching this.

Cue today, a Saturday in 2015 and I finally get round to watching the film - thanks to a friend's review on Letterboxd reminding me to get my skates on.

Hey, six years isn't too bad right?

Was it worth the wait? Yes it was. Marina Hands is a beautiful actress who perfectly embodies Lady Constance's doe eyed sense of wonderment as she awakens to the sensual world and realises she needs the body and not the mid alone to fully live to her potential. It's a superlative and much affecting turn.

Jean-Louis Coulloc'h initially confuses by playing a gamekeeper called Parkin and not Mellors and by being rather nondescript to look at, but over the film's near three hour running time, I came to appreciate his more humble appearance much more and found it perhaps more faithful than having some strapping stud roaming through the bracken. But oh, if only he had more charisma, more light and shade which would somehow merit what he claims his mother once said, 'that he was more woman than man'. Coulloc'h's performance is sadly almost as bland as his physical appearance, which makes it all the more disappointing given that Hands is sublime; a definitive Constance who makes you believe her newfound passion even when acting against such a performance.

Thankfully, Hippolyte Girardot doesn't let the side down for the men- ironically enough. He plays Sir Clifford, Constance's paralysed impotent husband and manages to convey many emotions beyond the one note cold and traditionally bigoted aristocrat that other adaptations may unimaginatively depict, whilst director Pascale Ferran delivers a considerately paced, beautiful and understated sensual movie with more emphasis on the Constance and Parkin undressing one another; the tentative, drawn out rituals that precede their lovemaking than the actual main event itself and I think I much preferred that and found that more affecting. 

Above all, Ferran's film feels fresh and romantic despite the great affair depicted being somewhat one side thanks to the casting. It's only that which stops this getting 4 (or more) stars over on the review site Letterboxd from me. Or, rather is it my inability to make my mind up regarding Coulloc'h? Because as soon as I've written this I feel I'm perhaps being too hard on him. It's true he lacks the vitality of Lawrence's hero, but there is something there I feel - there is a natural progression in terms of opening up/feelings etc but he occasionally still seems too deferential opposite Hands even when they're well into their affair. Then again maybe its just because Hands was clearly so good that I find his less arresting performance an issue.

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