If you've ever longed to see a young Barbara Hershey get it on with a young Udo Kier in the French countryside, run, don't walk, to see the new film Lady Chatterley. It's as close as you're ever going to get to the real thing outside of actorfic. Based on D.H. Lawrence's late-1920s John Thomas and Lady Jane — the second of three drafts of a story that culminated in the scandalous Lady Chatterley's Lover — this French-language adaptation follows the sensual (read: sexual) awakening of Lady Constance Chatterley (Marina Hands, the Hershey in my, I mean your, fantasy) of Wragby Manor. Her husband is an invalid after war wounds leave him without feeling ... mostly from the waist down. (The stink of World War I is all over the film and informs Constance's initial stirrings.)
When Constance accidentally sees gamekeeper Parkin (Jean-Louis Coullo'ch, who looks like Kier when the lighting's right) shirtless, she gets flustered, and it puts her in a funk that neither she nor the doctor can explain. To our 21st-century eyes, though, it's apparent enough: Chatterley is one repressed lady.
As Constance takes her lover, she is at first awkward and childlike, and Parkin is conflicted and gruff. Tip of the hat to Lawrence and the filmmakers, both for mixing sex and class commentary and for having an increasingly experienced Constance and Parkin not descend into coarseness but de-evolve out of the 20th century and back in time to an Edenic lack of shame.
Lady Chatterley won this year's César award (the French Oscar) for Best Film and Hands won Best Actress, and it's easy to see why. The running time is long — 168 minutes — but a truncated version would have pulled the emotional punches and just been soft porn for the tea-and-crumpets set.
Opens Friday, November 9th