“Lady Chatterley’s lover” by D.H. Lawrence (1928) – taking the John Thomas, sorry, the mickey – and welcome to “Whoar”, oops “War & Peace”

Back in the autumn, the BBC revisited Lady Chatterley and strapping Oliver Mellors, and after watching the rose-tinted version with a certain sense of bafflement, was tickled to pick up the battered (complete and unexpurgated) copy on the shelf and read the book again to see if all that critical indignation post showing was justified.

Well yes, on the whole it has to be said that the sanitised version is very lovely to watch and fetchingly acted by a rather too beauteous Holliday Grainger – in the book, “Constance was a ruddy, country-looking girl with soft brown hair and sturdy body and slow movements full of unused energy. She had big, wondering blue eyes and a soft, mild voice (with) rather strong, female loins…”, whereas here she is just plain gorgeous, slim as a blade and boasting a fetching line in feather plumed hair attire.

“Put your shirt back on, fine sir…”

The suitably dashing Richard Madden, who wooed the crowds with his britches in Cinderella and who am girding my loins to watch at some point in the Game of Thrones does do the gamekeeper justice, with sharp intakes of breath readily taken at his Mr Darcy/Poldark moment of fame: “The man was washing himself, utterly unaware. He was naked to the hips, his velveteen breeches slipping over his slender loins… Connie backed away… In spite of herself, she had had a shock. After all, merely a man washing himself! Yet, in some curious way, it was a visionary experience: it had hit her in the middle of her body.” Solar plexus material indeed.

The key element of surprise lies in the choice of main man and general hero James Norton as the supposedly unlikeable and unsympathetic Sir Clifford. Sadly, too much poetic licence is taken here with portraying the lacklustre husband. He should be petulant and indifferent (Mellors on Clifford : “He’ll hardly know you’ve gone, after six months. He doesn’t know that anybody exists, except himself. Why the man has no use for you at all, as far as I can see: he’s entirely wrapped up in himself”). He should be slowly but mercilessly caught up in helper Mrs Bolton’s wily spider’s web casting (“Why there you are, your ladyship! I was beginning to wonder if you’d gone lost!” she said a little roguishly. “Sir Clifford hasn’t asked for you, though…”). Instead, our actor is just far too endearing and blinking attractive for the scenario to ring true: sorry, BBC, J.N. is ever lovely to watch but is completely miscast here.

There’s also a bit of a problem with content, or rather lack of it. The distinct lack of sauciness and complete absence of crude language translated from the book to the small screen makes for rather a dull story unfolding – where are all the heaving bosoms and beating breasts? We miss that whole sense of tittering behind our fanned fingers, wondering what every man in the land unfortunately named ‘John Thomas’ must have felt at the time of publishing, to have their name so suddenly become the alter ego for the gamesman’s special equipment. Romantic as it is to read such lines as “ ‘Don’t you think one lives for times like last night?’ ”, I suspect most of us are far more likely to recall the pillow talk conducted between the two of them, with –

“ ‘Ay ma lad! tha’rt theer right enough. Yi, tha mun rear thy head! … John Thomas! Dost want her? Dost want my Lady Jane? … Lift up your heads o’ ye gates, that the king of glory may come in…”.

Seriously, I think I’d rather have James Norton, sorry Sir Clifton, any time.

Hey, though, don’t know if the entire world is likewise holed up on Sunday evenings in front of the BBC or feverishly waiting for the iPlayer to kick in, watching the unfurling of the luscious adaptation of “War & Peace” – but all is forgiven. James Andrei Bolkonsky Norton is back in his britches and am totally hooked….

More gauntlets flung down and revolvers feverishly cocked for duels at dawn, with determination at all costs to get this massive book read by the time the final credits rolls. It’s now or never… Needless to say, am spending far too much time hunting for clues of the much-debated hints at incestuous goings-on, and know there will be huge chunks cut out and discarded on the editing floor because the series has been condensed down into 6 hours, but the first episode bodes well and am counting the hours till I can watch Part Two very late via the iPlayer this evening. A group of us have decided to indeed read the book as the series unfolds, so the tricky thing now is knowing where to stop each time. Am cheating by watching then reading, so my mind’s eye inevitably sees Paul Dano or Gillian Anderson every time the character is mentioned, but frankly it’s a small and welcome price to pay.

Director Peter Kosminsky is pretty scathing about these TV adaptations and comments :

“Television is such a powerful medium. Millions of people watching a programme go into their school or workplace the next day and say, ‘Did you see it?’ Imagine if that programme wasn’t War and Peace or Wolf Hall, but was something that raised real questions about the way we are governed, or how our society is structured, or the crisis over refugees and migrants. Imagine if people were going in and not saying, ‘Ooh, I didn’t half fancy her in War and Peace,’ but if they were going in and saying, ‘That made me really angry.’ We’ve become supine. We need to get up off our arses and try to rock the boat a bit more. I’d like to see leadership from the broadcasters to say, ‘Come on, we want more of this stuff.” ,

and I take his point. But I think he’s wrong to knock it – any attention thrown at the classics has to be a good or even a very great thing, surely? Rock the boat and add as much current stuff as possible, directors the world over, but please don’t stop reviving these great works of literature, BBC et al. The Telegraph listed their Top 21 greatest TV adaptations today, and it’s quite a trip down memory lane. Hope there will be as many corkers for years to come…

“Lady Chatterley’s Lover” book rating : 8/10

Images taken from here, here, herehere and here.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Books on the Big Screen, Classics Club Challenge and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to “Lady Chatterley’s lover” by D.H. Lawrence (1928) – taking the John Thomas, sorry, the mickey – and welcome to “Whoar”, oops “War & Peace”

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  4. I started to re-read Lady C too, and was struck by how the smell of the pit just outside the woods/estate features in Lawrence’s descriptions. Something impossible to re-create in on-screen adaptations … Smell and cinema/TV: it’s a problem! Thank you for your thoughts, Nicola x

    Liked by 1 person

  5. FictionFan says:

    Haha! Your quote from Lady C is hilarious! I adored Lawrence in my teens and have been avoiding re-reading him for years in case it spoils my memories of him. But I must say even back in the day I didn’t think this was his best. I hope the Beeb continue to make their literary adaptations for a long time to come – they’re almost the only thing I can be bothered to watch these days.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Sarah says:

    Your post made me roar with laughter , thank you! I totally agree, Lady Chatterley’s Lover really did get ‘beebed’ – frocks, frills and frolics replacing earthy filth! That’s an interesting quote from Peter Kosminsky, but I agree with you, amp up the programming for the gritty and political, but not at the expense of the classics. W&P is rather wonderful isn’t it? *swoon*

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Oh am totally hooked. They’ve all got me swooning, mind you am an easy target. The only slight fly in the ointment for me so far is Jim B playing James Norton’s dad. Not that I don’t love him generally, but just don’t think his rendition is faithful enough to the novel – too much slightly curmudgeonly Bridget Jones’s dad for me! Half expect B J’s mother to come swirling in wearing a tiara. Mind you, am on page 300 of about 5,000 so maybe I shouldn’t be hasty to judge. Other than that it’s just a blast.


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