Book to Screen Adaptation: Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Lady Chatterley’s Lover by DH Lawrence, Penguin

I recently watched the BBC adaptation of Lady Chatterley’s Lover and really enjoyed it. Sometimes when well known stories are reinvented they often follow previous versions and explore similar themes and as such fail to engage a new audience. Thankfully, I can say this is not the case with Jed Mercurio’s adaptation. Richard Madden really encapsulated the character of Oliver Mellors, the downtrodden gamekeeper that embarks upon an affair with the lady of the house, Constance Chatterley, played excellently by Holliday Grainger. James Norton’s portrayal of Clifford Chatterley was equally fantastic and really evoked my sympathy for his character – a feeling I did not experience whilst reading the novel.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover was notoriously prohibited from publication in the UK for over thirty years and is infamous for the explicit sexual relationship between a working class man and an upper class woman. Many adaptations of DH Lawrence’s classic have thus focussed on this forbidden love affair and catered to the stereotype that has developed around this novel. This is a shame as the story explores far more than the sexual adventures of a bored housewife; it deals with damaged pride, class boundaries and (now) archaic attitudes towards women.

I feel Mercurio’s decision to direct the production with a stronger focus on Constance and Clifford’s relationship before he went to war was justified. In the novel it is easy to focus on how bitter Clifford was upon his return from the trenches of the First World War, how he ignored his wife and her needs and threw himself into intellectual debates. In this adaptation we witness his personal decline while dealing with the inability to walk and how that affects his relationship with Constance. He is too ashamed to let her see him so vulnerable, it went against the deeply ingrained social standards of the time. Men were meant to provide a family, look after them and run his household. This sudden decline in efficiency clearly made him feel inadequate. His disability had severely damaged his pride and rendered him incapable of running his own estate and household independently. It was a long way to fall, especially as he was a lord. He had suddenly become much more dependant on his servants, the very ones he believed not to be ‘real people’. I feel that this tragic portrayal of Clifford made Connie’s betrayal and love for Mellors more shocking and perhaps a tad unwelcome.

Although this made for good watching, I felt it was a bit unfair to Connie’s character. In the book, we read how Clifford used to entertain groups of men and hold lots of intellectual discussions whilst dismissing Connie’s opinions and views because she was a woman. It was easier to empathise with her discontent in the novel and enjoy her meetings with Mellors. Yet I feel the reasons for his retreat into the intellectual sphere are more justified once you have watched the adaptation. His disgust with himself for not being able to provide an heir let alone bathe himself and walk around his estate pushed him into exploring a field he could conquer. In that respect I feel this particular adaptation and the novel work well together. I did really enjoy the tortured relationship between the Chatterleys in this production and the fresh portrayal of Clifford even though it changed the way I regarded Constance and Mellors.

I hope this adaptation inspires more people to read the original novel. It is so much more than the soft erotica it is regularly dismissed for. Lawrence’s comments on social and gender classes and the blurring of boundaries for love is truly engaging and interesting. Well worth a read.

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2 thoughts on “Book to Screen Adaptation: Lady Chatterley’s Lover

  1. I gave the adaptation a miss, and after reading this I think I may have to give it a go. I’ve watched countless adaptations, where as you say they’ve focused on the physical between Constance and Mellors, and while initially that is what brings them together it isn’t the be all and end all of the relationship.

    I was disappointed when it got panned because I like Madden and Grainger respectively. Look’s like I know what I’ll be watching tonight then!

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    1. Aw i’m glad you’ll give it a watch. You’ll have to let me know what you think. It certainly doesn’t focus as much on Mellors and Connie’s relationship as much as others, and while it doesn’t show the extent of Clifford’s, neglect, for want of a better word, as is described in the novel, I enjoyed it. It was a different spin on an old story. I think together the adaptation and the book go well. I enjoyed it, i hope you do too!

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