Lady Chatterley



PARIS -- Pascale Ferran's "Lady Chatterley" is the sixth screen adaptation of D.H. Lawrence's scabrous (for its time) tale of an aristocrat's adulterous passion for her husband's gamekeeper, and the second French version. (For the record, the other four are English, Japanese, Italian and a Franco-German pornographic film). It also is the first by a female director.

It would be pleasing to report that Ferran's focus on the woman's point of view, signaled by the dropping of the third word in Lawrence's original title, "Lady Chatterley's Lover," has added a new dimension. Unfortunately, it has not. Lawrence was sufficiently attuned to feminist currents when he wrote the book in 1928 to provide the focus himself. Here Ferran's overliteral visual interpretation -- polished, tasteful but ultimately bloodless -- fails to convey any of the resonance of the text.

At 21⁄2 hours, it also is far too long. While French critics have praised the movie highly, it is unlikely to win a following outside its home territory, the festival circuit and the circle of those for whom the name Lady Chatterley is an irresistible attraction.

Constance Chatterley (Marina Hands), a young married woman bored by life with her paralyzed upper-class husband Clifford (Hippolyte Girardot), finds romance and release with gamekeeper Oliver Mellors (whom Ferran chooses for no apparent reason to rename Parkin, played by Jean-Louis Coulloc'h). She longs for a child and, partly with Clifford's tacit consent, becomes pregnant by Parkins While Constance is away on holiday with her sister Hilda (Helene Fillieres) in the south of France, Parkin's estranged wife returns. The couple then plan to divorce their respective spouses and make a new life together.

One of the film's major problems is the casting. Hands is watchable, playing Constance as a conscientious but childlike wife whose urgent need for sexual fulfillment leads her to break her marriage vows. But the uncharismatic Coulloc'h fails utterly to convince as Parkin.

The book's transgressive charge had to do with class as much as with sex. Coulloc'h's white collar and tie-wearing Parkin comes over more as an out-of-work bank manager roughing it for a while between jobs than as a man in touch with nature and its urgings. In the book, Mellors' earthiness is conveyed partly by the use of dialect, not to mention the infamous four-letter word. An actor with a regional accent might have been more appropriate in the role. Instead, the chasm in class between Constance and Parkin is blurred, and the sight of them frolicking naked in the rain like a couple of secondary-residence owners enjoying a weekend in the country is likely to inspire as much mirth as wonder.

Finally, it is the crippled Clifford, fighting the pangs of jealousy as he submits to his wife's determination to look to another man as a means of conceiving a child, who inspires the greatest sympathy.

Maia Films, Arte France
Director: Pascale Ferran
Screenwriters: Roger Bohbot, Pascale Ferran, Pierre Trividic
Based on the novel by: D.H. Lawrence
Producers: Olivier Guerbois, Gilles Sandoz
Director of photography: Julien Hirsch
Music: Beatrice Thiriet
Costume designer: Marie-Claude Altot
Editors: Mathilde Muyard, Yann Dedet
Constance Chatterley: Marina Hands
Parkin: Jean-Louis Coulloc'h
Sir Clifford: Hippolyte Girardot
Mrs. Bolton: Helene Alexandridis
Hilda: Helene Fillieres
Running time -- 158 minutes
No MPAA rating