Lady Chatterley

(Ken Russell, UK, 1993)


How can Ken Russell direct so many films and still never manage to get any better at it?

This insufferable blowhard of British cinema has apparently given up on the gaudy, histrionic shockers (such as The Music Lovers, 1971) that once earned him a dubious reputation. Since his adaptation of D.H. Lawrence's The Rainbow (1989), Russell has reverted to a mildly eccentric form of literary classicism, as if imagining himself to be the Michael Powell of the '90s.

This lame version of Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover anticipates the success of Jane Campion's The Piano (1993). There are marked similarities: the erotic liberation of a society woman; her cross-class affair with a wild man of nature; and a lurking husband who is all at once sexually repressed, seethingly violent and politically vile.

But where Campion effortlessly convinced viewers of the contemporary relevance of her historic tale, Russell is quite unable to shake a single cobweb off the Lawrentian legacy. Lady Chatterley most resembles those recent John Duigan films Wide Sargasso Sea (1993) and Sirens (1994) in which we are actually asked to care about some ancient struggle between the stiff values of British aristocracy and the first flutters of sexual freedom amidst the leisured middle class.

Russell brings not a skerrick of art or craft to this project. He films rigid people rigidly, pinning them to the wall with an ugly fish-eye lens. Then he skips about with a hand-held camera following the nude Lady C. (Joely Richardson) in the rain – staying ever careful, of course, to keep the private parts of the magnificent animal Mellors (Sean Bean) hidden behind handy bushes.

MORE Russell: Aria

© Adrian Martin September 1994

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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