Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Year: 1981
Production Co: Cannon Films
Director: Just Jaeckin
Producer: Menahem Golan/Goran Globus
Writer: Marc Behm/Just Jaeckin/DH Lawrence/Christopher Wicking
Cast: Sylvia Kristel, Shane Briant, Nicholas Clay, Ann Mitchell

You can tell by the production values at the time that Cannon Films wanted this movie to be received as a serious erotic drama, capturing the spirit of Lawrence's heartfelt book.

But with the name of notorious schlockmeisters Globus and Golan behind it and Sylvia Kristel in the cast, there was little chance it was ever going to be anything but grot with airs and graces. It's not quite a straight to video erotic action thriller of the type that proliferated in the 1980s, mind you, but it's certainly not Shakespeare.

If you don't know the story, it's D H Lawrence's famous screed against the puritanism of the upper classes and the class prejudice raging in England in his time. Lady Constance Chatterley (Kristel) is married to Sir Clifford (Shane Briant), a World War One hero who returns from the front paralysed from the waist down and unable to perform sexually for his wife.

Clifford's escape from being cared for like a baby (including being carried up stairs and into bed) by his wife is intellectual discourse with his live-in nurse, Mrs Bolton (Ann Mitchell). Connie's solace is one she can hardly put a name to as she starts visiting the cottage occupied by gamekeeper Mellors (Nicholas Clay). As one of Lawrence's central theses claims, love between humans is physical as well as emotional no matter how little the snobs of the upper class try to politely ignore its existence.

At first the compulsion to spend time with him is because Connie takes an interest in Mellors' raising of the chickens, but she can't deny the attraction to the gruff, lower-class man of the land, and soon the pair become lovers, Mellors schooling her in the ways of passions her station in life wouldn't normally allow her to express.

Like 10 and Bolero, it was famous for being the porn of its day (anticipated by teenage boys everywhere when it played on TV, albeit heavily cut) and being the early 80s it's very tame compared to what you can see just a couple of decades later. It stood apart from more obsequious porn by coming out in theatres and playing on TV in the era before there was so much crossover between media platforms. As a result, Kristel, director Just Jaeckin (who directed her in the Emmanuelle series) and the tone of the film itself commanded more cachet than they deserved.

Viewed nowadays 40 years later it's barely more explicit than an old grindhouse horror movie – and with about as much writing and acting talent on offer. But if you don't know Lawrence's story and can't be bothered reading the book it's a good place to start. His themes were implicit in the narrative to such a degree just retelling the novel on film gives it the spirit of his intent.

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