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Lady Chatterley’s Lover review – well-acted and raunchy Netflix adaptation

Emma Corrin impresses in Laure de Clermont-Tonnerr's sexually-charged take on the classic novel, though it fumbles the ending

Based on D.H. Lawrence’s 1928 erotic novel of a scandalous story ahead of its time, Lady Chatterley’s Lover is Netflix’s second shot at giving us an adaptation of the highly controversial book. The rich source material was the basis for a Jed Mercurio film from 2015 that already sits on the streaming site, but French director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre’s cinematic revision arrives with a liberal attitude to the sexually-charged romance and an abundance of eroticism tastefully executed.

An absorbing addition to Netflix's growing selection of period dramas, Lady Chatterley’s Lover follows the proprietary life and marriage of Sir and Lady “Connie” Chatterley, inundated with wealth, privilege and opportunity. They’re missing just one thing: the next Chatterley heir. Retired from military service due to injury, Lord Clifford (Matthew Duckett) instructs his wife to bear a child with “the right kind of man,” who he will then claim as his own, securing the next generation of his grand familial estate.

Connie is the first leading role for Emma Corrin, and a dense one at that, which they deliver impressively with shades of resilience reminiscent of their opulent turn as Diana in The Crown. In Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Corrin embodies the emotional transgression of Connie taking control of her sexuality with sumptuous results, making fine work of David Magee’s occasionally shaky script. Becoming embroiled in a passionate love affair with the groundskeeper, Oliver, a former ex-lieutenant with a gruff manner whose page-to-screen transformation is softened in the hands of Jack O’Connell, Connie is introduced to an unexplored world of erotic pleasure. Entering into a sexually free bohemia in a secluded pheasant hut, the nude male form brings back the sparkle in Connie’s eyes.

Against Connie's sister’s warnings, sex and love become intertwined. It is not only unbecoming of a lady to disavow her nuptials, but Connie steps across invisible class lines to share herself with Oliver. She has only ever known the riches of wealth, while he is a working-class man of the people, but her enamour with woodland walks and Oliver’s humble stone cottage only grows as their lonely souls find solace in each other's minds and bodies. Isabella Summers’ (Assassination Nation and Call Jane) mesmerising score sweeps these lovers into a flurry of heady longing as what was once physical indulgence grows to be intimate, though their chemistry occasionally resides between questionable and distant with impatient edits. Staccato strings and thrumming chords project a dichotomy of the ache of a lost marriage and the fever of new love.

Benoît Delhomme’s cinematography delights with a handheld camera and flitting focus that draws attention to and from intertwined limbs and plastered skin when Oliver drops to his knees to perform oral sex and the galavanting pair dance nude during a rainstorm. While exteriors are dreamy, interior shots succumb to a hazy, overexposed bright white haze casting through windows in every scene – any metaphorical significance is lost to the distraction of piercing light. Then arrives a rather underexplored narrative thread of Clifford’s interest in the development of mining machinery, which desecrates local families, much to Connie’s disgust. She has become the voice of the ordinary folk, like a canary in a mine of male grandeur, but her wings are clipped and this potentially thoughtful rumination on industrial class structure and community politics fizzles out.

Mining, masculinity and money make the world of Lady Chatterley’s Lover go round, and Connie is a spanner in the works. Clifford may have gone to war, but Connie’s heading into a battle of her own as she pulls a military-style jacket over her shoulders and marches towards her desired future. Raunchy but tastefully lustful in its exploration of desire and class in a romance of choice, not circumstance, Clermont-Tonnerre’s adaptation veers from its source in its final moments and unfortunately becomes all that it promised not to be.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover will be released in UK cinemas on 25 November and on Netflix on 2 December.

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