Rough sex gives way to romance in the 2015 adaptation of Lady Chatterley

Just another pair of traditional romantics.  BBC Pictures/Hartswood Films

The following article was published on 7 September 2015 in The Conversation. Here Andrew Harrison of University of Nottingham asks viewers to be cautious of Jed Mercurio’s adaptation of Lawrence’s iconic novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover as it “reinforces precisely the traditional values that Lawrence was trying to unpick”.The Conversation

The latest adaptation of D H Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover has predictably prompted significant media interest. Strong and contradictory reactions appeared in the newspapers weeks before it aired (on September 6). The Sun called the BBC film “so steamy it borders on porn”, while the Telegraph noted that the sex scenes are “soft-focus” and expressed surprise at the omission of the novel’s infamous four-letter words.

Its writer and director, Jed Mercurio, must have anticipated such responses. In producing another adaptation of this iconic novel he knew that he stood either to outrage viewers by the inclusion of sex scenes and four-letter words, or to disappoint them by their omission. The Guardian cited his own reaction to the issues at stake:

It did not feel that today we would be breaking new ground if we were to use those [four-letter] words. If you want to use certain words you have to justify them, and it did not seem relevant … The idea was to tell this as a love story, a love triangle – to concentrate on the emotions of the characters.

On one level, Mercurio’s assertion of his right to focus on those aspects of the novel which seem to him most “relevant” is wholly justifiable. Lawrence wrote three versions of the novel between 1926 and 1928, and viewers are arguably more likely to be familiar with previous adaptations by Just Jaeckin (1981), Ken Russell (1993) and Pascale Ferran (2006) than the written source. Perhaps an adaptation should be judged on its originality.

But this adaptation not only departs from the original text, but also reinforces precisely the traditional values that Lawrence was trying to unpick.

Constance Chatterley (HOLLIDAY GRAINGER), Clifford Chatterley (JAMES NORTON)
BBC Pictures/Hartswood Films

Soft edges

As ever, it comes down to sex. In the novel, Lawrence’s unflinching depiction of the life of the body – and the fragility and tenderness of sex – is presented as a counterblast to the damaging abstractions of industrialism and modernity. But Mercurio’s film resolutely sidesteps this in order to tell the straightforward story of Constance Chatterley’s choice between her crippled aristocratic husband (Sir Clifford) and his virile gamekeeper (Oliver Mellors). To make that choice a tad more interesting, Sir Clifford is depicted in a much more sympathetic light than in the novel and Oliver Mellors is made far less complex and compelling.

Lawrence’s novel examines in great detail the difficulties Connie faces in reaching out to Mellors, an educated man in his late 30s disgruntled by his past sexual experiences, who has moved among the officer classes during the War but deliberately chooses to speak the Derbyshire dialect and take up an isolated working-class life. Mercurio passes over Mellors’ estrangement from his wife in a flash and class is dealt with in very 21st century terms: as something rather irksome which can be overcome if only you set your mind to it.

In the novel, Mellors is initially reluctant to involve himself in an affair with Connie, and he uses his dialect to distance himself from her: he has been hurt in the past, and he is sensitive to being patronised or used by his employer’s wife. In this film, any doubts the very young gamekeeper has are quickly overcome and his righteous anger at the ruling classes does not unduly affect his relationship with Connie.

Oliver Mellors (RICHARD MADDEN)
BBC Pictures/Hartswood Films

Into the sunset

But perhaps the most striking thing about the adaptation is the way it champions romantic love. Lawrence was constantly trying to redefine the terms of marriage and relationship. In Lady Chatterley’s Lover he shows two damaged individuals finding a connection in spite of themselves – through their physical tenderness for each other. Mellors dislikes mouth kisses and Connie comes to share his hatred of masturbation. They bond through their conflictual and shifting desire for each other and through their dogged opposition to the world as it is. There is no happy ending – only some blessed hope that they will be able to make a life together despite all the practical barriers they must overcome.

D H Lawrence.

In contrast, Mercurio’s film gives its audience exactly what it wants on a Sunday evening: romance, straight and simple. His Mellors is quite happy to kiss Connie on the mouth, and is not averse to giving her oral sex too. Flames dance around the screen when they first have intercourse. If Lawrence’s stated intention in writing the novel was to enable “men and women to … think sex, fully, completely, honestly, and cleanly”, Mercurio seems content to provide romantic escapism.

By taking all the rough edges off the sex scenes and omitting the four-letter words, Mercurio has effectively removed those features of the novel which have made it so challenging, memorable and influential since its publication in 1928. Lawrence’s novel was addressed squarely and combatively to the England of his day. Mercurio’s film unashamedly passes over the battles it fought, finding them no longer relevant.

This is fair enough, I suppose: the film is quite effective and inoffensive as a conventional romantic costume drama. But as Mellors and Connie drive off together at the end of this adaptation, with Sir Clifford’s blessing for their new-found love still ringing in their ears, it is hard to erase from one’s mind Lawrence’s constant warnings against the bland prescriptions of a neutered and castrated modern consciousness.The Conversation

Andrew Harrison, Assistant Professor in English Literature, University of Nottingham

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

dhl-trunk garter

In the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts to try to understand this complex writer. How do we represent the relationship between Mellors and Lady Chatterley? In 2019 we begin building our Memory Theatre and retracing Lawrence’s savage pilgrimage both physically and digitally. If you have an idea for an artefact, get involved and submit ideas here

 

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Student essay – D.H. Lawrence: A Lifestyle Guide

The above visual essay was created by Will Ryan as part of his final dissertation at Nottingham Trent University. Will and other students on the module have also been helping us to design and create our memory theatre.  

D.H. Lawrence, like many 20th century authors, produced a large amount of literature during his writing career.  Permeating through many of these works is a spiritual life philosophy concerned with living life to the fullest, and utilising individual uniqueness to live a life for and only for themselves.

Through looking at Lawrence’s poetry it becomes clear there is a recurring theme of energy, best described in his poem Dreams Old and Nascent in which the men are described as ‘vibrating in ecstasy’ and there is ‘an impulse of life.’  I assume that he also speaks of this energy in his poem Non-Existence with the line ‘We don’t exist unless we are deeply and sensually in touch with that which can be touched but not known,’ and to Lawrence this energy is an essential ingredient for fully experiencing life.  What this energy is could initially be seen as a mixture of happiness and enthusiasm but after reading the poem We Are Transmitters I noticed that to Lawrence this energy is something spiritual, describing sex as ‘A flow onwards,’ and saying ‘Sexless people transmit nothing.’  So far, it seems that harnessing this energy is the key to living a fulfilling life, but simply hearing this information is useless without knowing how to do so.

The methodology for getting in touch with a person’s internal energy can be found again through Lawrence’s poetry, and can be summarised with two words: discipline and individuality.  Ironically in the poem Discipline I will demonstrate Lawrence’s emphasis on the latter.  He states ‘the fight is not for existence, the fight is to burn at last into blossom of being, each one his own flower outflung,’ and this burning desire to seize and accept one’s true personality is what Lawrence sees as the proper way of living and experiencing life’s energy.  Challenging this viewpoint would lead Lawrence to respond very defensively, as displayed by the line ‘whoever would pluck apart my flower would burn their hands,’ and this emphasises the importance he places on individuality.

After first dealing with the inward self Lawrence then demonstrates how to interact with the outside world, believing that to discipline oneself into consistent maximum effort in all aspects of life allows for a rewarding flow of energy that maintains spirit ‘if, as we work. we can transmit life into our work […] we ripple with life throughout the day,’ and this method of thoroughness is an invaluable element of character to Lawrence, avoiding the wasting of days ‘I never saw a wild thing feel sorry for itself,’ and embracing one’s full potential.

Unfortunately, many of the great writers had a fatal flaw. Ezra Pound was a fascist, H.P Lovecraft a racist. Lawrence, too, divides critics as to his true intentions.  His religious upbringing, and the culture of the time, meant he believed strongly in gender roles, a belief steeped in control which can easily blur over into misogyny.  In the poem Figs Lawrence lays out rules for women and how they use their bodies ‘The female should always be secret,’ and by  metaphorically comparing sexually active females to ripe fruit ‘They forget, ripe figs won’t keep,’ he patronisingly segments this pursuit of energy displayed in his works as a gendered journey; men should embrace everything unique about them without any stated restraints yet women should realise their predetermined place in society. But Lawrence is difficult to pin down as one type of person, and later in the poem is critical of society as ‘they have saved you from yourself, from your own body, saved you from living your own life.’

In Dreams Nascent Lawrence touches on various themes such as modernisation and identity, and these themes are explored through the concept of dreams.  Within the poem’s first stanza, Lawrence speaks of ‘old, ineffectual lives linger[ing] blurred and warm,’ and this depicts a world of aged people living life at an unsatisfactory pace.  The word ‘blurred,’ signifies a light grip on life, a lack of control almost and in the previous line he describes his world as ‘a painted fresco,’ the combination of the two lines implying we are all part of one orchestrated painting.  Again, this signifies missing autonomy, and in the next line, Lawrence speaks of the past weaving a tapestry that is ‘compelling his soul to conform.’  This is reminiscent of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, in which Thoreau attempts to distance himself from societally imposed frameworks and instead think independently.  Lawrence speaks of the past having ‘woven drapes/ [in] The halls of [his] life,’ and this evokes a claustrophobic trapping of himself within society’s routines and rules, emphasising the need to escape this and live for himself.  In the fourth stanza, Lawrence introduces a conflict in thought; depicting the men as ‘vibrating in ecstasy,’ as they work, implying a positive flow of energy that can be seen to permeate his works.  However, at the end of this line he describes the men’s flesh as ‘rounded,’ as if it has been mechanically altered by their labour.  This reference is Lawrence’s commentary on the effects of modernisation, it can almost be seen as turning man into machine, and the poem concludes with the line ‘fall back exhausted into the unconscious molten life,’ a double entendré that speaks of natural death but also in relation to the mechanical content of the text, an unnatural one; the men are almost swallowed up by the machines they create.  This point can be further emphasised by the line ‘old dreams reflected on the molten metal of dreams,’ the natural dreams personal to individuals are contrasted with the unnatural, the dreams of money earned through labour.  Lawrence also uses language to subvert traditional descriptions of a creator: ‘The power of the melting, fusing Force – heat, light, all in one,’ using mechanical lexis to speak how modernisation is akin to a false idol, worshipped, compared blasphemously to God in order to demonstrate what he believes is an unhealthy focus on modernisation in his contemporary era.

In this poem Lawrence sees society as detrimental to the process of following individual dreams.  The past holds constricting frameworks and the presents holds labour that ultimately cripples dreams.  Analysing this poem in relation to his other literature, these societal binds can be broken through what can best be described in Non-Existence, with the line ‘We don’t exist unless we are deeply and sensually in touch with that which can be touched but not known.’  A deeper spiritual connection with one’s true self is to Lawrence liberating and a way to enforce both happiness and autonomy.

dhl-trunk energyTo see more visual essays and other interpretations of Lawrence’s work, please see our YouTube channel: D.H.Lawrence: A Digital Pilgrimage  We also post one minute films of Lawrence’s writing on our instagram account: dhldigitalpilgrimage In 2019 we will be begin building our memory theatre. You can submit artefacts here