Film review: Lady Chatterley alt. Lady Chatterley et l’homme des bois (2006), directed by Pascale Ferran
How fascinating, a French adaptation of a British book. Set in England, with English signs, and everyone speaks French. It’s nearly as weird as watching Ken Branagh playing Kurt Wallander in English when the show is about a Swedish policeman and it’s filmed in Sweden, where everyone have Swedish names. However, because this is mainly set either in the woods or in an old house, it’s not as jarring.
From what I’ve managed to gather, this is an adaptation of DH Lawrence’s John Thomas and Lady Jane (1978), a second, lesser known version of Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928). I’ve only ever read the first one, and that comes with a few different endings depending on which edition you read, so I’m not familiar with the changes. Trying to find information, it seems Oliver Mellors is now Oliver Parkin – originally, I thought this was a change because maybe “Mellors” sounds like something particular in French and they had to change it for that reason. Apparently, the guy has mellowed a bit as well.
So, before we get down to it, like pointing out how this adaptation has been showered in awards, the story is: Connie (Marina Hands) is the wife of Sir Clifford Chatterley (Hippolyte Girardot), a man who was injured in the war and who has since not been able to walk or fulfil his husbandly duties. Connie is bored looking after her husband in a big old house in the middle of nowhere, her sister Hilda (Hélène Fillières) worries that there’s something wrong with her, and they manage to hire a dedicated nurse for Clifford: Mrs Bolton (Hélène Alexandridis). When Connie then comes across the gamekeeper, Oliver Parkin (Jean-Louis Coullo’ch), she’s instantly attracted. After many meetings, they finally decide to initiate a physical relationship. And the rest is history, controversial and scandalous and everything.
Which is quite funny. If you’ve never heard of DH Lawrence before, you’re bound to have heard of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, in one way or another. Usually in hushed tones.
One thing that is definitely lost in translation is how Mellors Parkin switches between a broad Derbyshire dialect to a more standardised English when he speaks. Here, he just speaks French. So that’s a shame, but a change I can definitely live with.
The version I was watching had a runtime of over three hours and I can’t quite decide if this was the cut or uncut version. The uncut being 220 minutes, the other one 168, but it was shown on a channel with commercial breaks, so who knows how long it actually was? The recording said 3h22m.
And that’s the thing. Normally when you have an adaptation of a novel, they cut scenes out to save on time; scenes that aren’t vital to the general plot. So with this being such an incredibly long film anyway, why leave out scenes from the book? “For time, duh! Or it would have been even longer!” you might say. Yeah, then please explain to me why the mainstay of this production consisted of shots of nature and of Connie walking around in it, because it seemed like half the film was dedicated to scenery porn and long woodland walks. As opposed to the bits of the novel that were left out. Unless the scenes I was thinking of were actually cut from the version of the book this is based on. If so, my bad.
I have to say, though, that the nature shots were gorgeous, and I loved hearing the chirping of the birds in the trees and the sound of running water at the spring, and so on. In fact, one of the very first scenes is Connie looking out over the grounds of Wragby Hall in autumn and it’s heart-stoppingly beautiful. Still, when you’re trying to watch a story and you’re tired and would like to go to bed but you’re also thinking that if you don’t sit this one through now, who knows when you’ll have the chance to finish it? No. Fortunately, here’s where a remote control and the fact that it wasn’t live TV came in handy. I fast-forwarded … a lot. That cut the viewing time down considerably, so I could go to bed before midnight, yay. As much as I love seeing nature being beautiful, I can see that in 6x as well. Whenever there were characters interacting, I’d go back to real time, of course. Hrm, okay, one of the sex scenes (out in the woods) also got a fast-forward treatment when it really seemed to drag on forever.
Yes, there are sex scenes. Remember the source material? There’s even a shot of an erect penis, but it’s not exploitative or feels gratuitous. Speaking of the gamekeeper, I was torn between feelings of “well, he ain’t no Sean Bean, that’s for sure!” (Sean Bean played Mellors in 1993) and finding him rather attractive anyway. I mean … well, no, he’s not what we’d perhaps call conventionally handsome. But he’s a very solid build and looks strong and masculine and is kind (if a bit grumpy) and keeps wearing a tie all the time for some reason, and just something there. Very strong neck and strong arms. Very much nothing at all what the character in the original novel looks like – Mellors is tall, fairly slim, and ginger. With a moustache. (Sean Bean doesn’t exactly look the part either, to be fair.)
On the other hand, Connie – I thought she was amazing! Marina Hands seemed more like Connie than Joely Richardson did in 1993. Just a better fit, somehow. I am still a bit confused with regards to Connie’s relationship with Parkin, but maybe it’s because it was so gradual that I didn’t really notice? There just seemed to be more physical love than romantic love, and the book have them in love as well. Not that these characters aren’t … uh.
Occasionally, there was a text prompt to explain something about the plot, such as a period of time passing, and sometimes there’s even a narrator, but there seemed to be little rhyme or reason for when either were used.
The biggest issue I have with this production is the very abrupt ending. Connie and Parkin are sitting under a tree, she’s asking him if he’ll wait for her in case she decides to leave her husband, he says yes, of course he will AND THEN IT ENDS! I was so surprised by this I actually exclaimed “What?! That’s it?!” at the TV when the credits started rolling. Maybe that’s where the later version of the novel ends, I don’t know, but I was expecting more. Weren’t they supposed to be found out?! No, the ending was way too abrupt, I didn’t like it.
Overall, aside from being excruciatingly long, it’s actually rather enjoyable. If you don’t like scenes where people look at each other a lot without talking, you probably won’t like it. This is an artsy type film without feeling artsy (boring), but is more like a fine-tuned instrument. French lends itself very well to DH Lawrence’s prose, as it turns out. It’s beautiful, visually stunning. Lots of birds chirping as opposed to background music. I thoroughly enjoyed it (a lot more than I thought I would), but the fact that I could fast-forward my way through half of it without losing anything means it wasn’t perfect by any means.
4 out of 5 newly hatched chickens.