D.H. Lawrence’s 1928 novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover doesn’t seem an especially propitious basis for a new Netflix movie. Sex scenes aren’t a scandal anymore, and neither is a relationship across class lines; the shock of the original has little power now. Add in Netflix’s egregiously wrong-headed effort to turn Jane Austen’s Persuasion into a vehicle for cutesy snark from earlier this year, and many viewers may approach Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre’s adaptation with caution.
That caution is, thankfully, not necessary. Lady Chatterley’s Lover may not have the power to shock that it once did, but in Clermont-Tonnerre’s hands it retains both romantic and social resonance. In the era of Donald Trump and Elon Musk, Sir Clifford Chatterley (Matthew Duckett) certainly seems familiar. Wounded in the war, his impotence is not, the film makes clear, due to his disability, but to his embrace of his class and his entitlement. He orders men to misery in his mines. He orders his wife Connie (Emma Corrin) to sleep with someone else to provide him with an heir. He thinks he has the right to demand production and reproduction. Duckett as Chatterley practically curdles in on himself, turning away from his marriage in favor of the safer emotional satisfactions of power.
Corrin as Connie Chatterley is the perfect actor to show love dying and love opening anew. Her face is so radiant in happiness that every moment of sadness and misery feels almost unendurable. Clermont-Tonnerre wisely keeps the focus of the film squarely on the lady as she traipses through ravishing wild landscapes in ravishing fashionable frocks, searching for her quietly smoldering gamekeeper Oliver Mellors (Jack O’Connell). The latter manages to convey with only the occasional look of wonder that he can’t believe the miracle he’s been given. Their sex scenes are plentiful and joyously, earthily sensuous. The old slang words “John Thomas” are never uttered, but I think Lawrence would still be pleased. R, 126 min.