Adapting classic literature is always a tricky proposition. Staying too faithful to things runs the risk of having folks wonder why this version exists in the first place. On the other hand, going in the other direction has its own issues, as fans could revolt against too many changes. So, finding a happy medium is pretty essential. In the case of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, the needle has been really effectively threaded. No one will mistake this for anything else than the classic erotic tale, but it’s done in such a way that it still feels fresh. Dropping on Netflix this week, it’s not just a success, but probably a great deal better than you’re expecting.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover is arguably the most successful adaptation of the D.H. Lawrence source material to date. Again, the story’s wheel is not being reinvented in any notable way, but this is the take that has really managed to hit home. It doesn’t hurt that the two central roles are impeccably played by two interesting performers at the top of their respective games.
Based on Lawrence’s novel of the same name, we follow Connie Reid (Emma Corrin) in aftermath of her marriage to Sir Clifford Chatterley (Matthew Duckett). Connie’s life of wealth and privilege that she already led seems rather set in stone now. Taking the title of Lady Chatterley, it should all be easy street for her. However, what started with hope and promise takes a turn for the worse when Clifford returns from the World War I with severe injuries. Left unable to walk, he relies on her for care, unhappy with any other arrangement.
When Connie meets Oliver Mellors (Jack O’Connell), the gamekeeper on the Chatterley family estate she’s immediately smitten. In short order, a torrid affair begins between the two, one that also leads to a sexual awakening of sorts for her. Of course, gossip about the tryst is inevitable, leading Connie to make a choice about the future of her heart and potential happiness. Will she succumb to what society expects of her or go her own way?
Both Emma Corrin and Jack O’Connell are more than on point here. Corrin anchors the title role with modernity that’s refreshing to see, while O’Connell positively smolders, though never at the expense of what’s going on in his character’s mind. Together, they have strong chemistry, set the screen on fire, and keep you invested in their affair. Matthew Duckett is solid as well, taking a character you could easily just want to shoo away and giving him his own emotion and pathos. Supporting players include Joely Richardson, among others, but it’s Corrin and O’Connell leading the way.
Director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre and writer David Magee find their own take on Lawrence’s classic. You won’t have trouble believing this is Lady Chatterley’s Lover or anything like that, but it’s never treading old territory. There’s a sexual frankness that really is needed for the story, as well as both a feminine and modern sensibility at play. It’s subtle, but it helps make the emotions of the novel land harder than usual.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover will be very recognizable to fans of the novel, though given enough of a new spin to make this version stand quite on its own. Those completely adverse to costume dramas / period pieces aren’t going to suddenly be converted, but this version, imbued with eroticism and romance, should hook all others in. This is destined to be a popular Netflix title for new couples, mark my words.