Netflix’s “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” is Better than the Book

Boom, it’s controversial opinion time. Also, I’m about to use some salty language, not because I want to, but because the book is full of it.

I read “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” for a few reasons. First, I like to read the occasional classic in a vain attempt to cultivate my cluttered rat’s nest of a mind. The second is that if I hear about a classic that’s been turned into a film, I like to know what it’s about and then compare it to the movie. The third reason is that I heard this book was banned in England for obscenity, and I can’t keep my hands out of the literary cookie jar. If you tell me I’m not supposed to read a book, even if that ban was lifted decades ago, then I still want to. 

It’s kind of like how I want to try absinthe even though that crap has been legal since I was a kid. It’s not that it’ll taste good or make me hallucinate in a fun way. It’s more like once upon a time, I couldn’t have it, which makes me want it all the more.

Except the problem with banning is that it doesn’t automatically make that banned thing awesome or better. Absinthe isn’t exactly good for you, but a glass won’t turn you into a monster. Hell, the sport bowling was once banned, but that doesn’t make it any less boring. And after reading “Lady Chatterley’s Lover,” I can’t help but feel like it’s more of an “absinthe” rather than a “To Kill a Mockingbird” or “1984” situation. 

I wasn’t quite sure what to think of the book before I read it. I hadn’t watched any filmed version of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” before reading, nor did I successfully spoil the plot by reading about it on Wikipedia (which contains surprisingly few details). 

The story is about an aristocratic woman in 1920s England named Constance “Connie” Chatterley. Connie’s life is upended when her husband, Clifford, returns from World War One paralyzed from the waist down and, therefore, unable to blow her back out. Despite his disability, Clifford still lives an active mental life, forming friendships with writers and intellectuals and getting heavily involved with the area’s local businesses. Clifford then suggests to Connie that she let another man get her pregnant so that she can be a mother and their estate, Wragby, can have an heir. 

Clifford technically wants her to find another “gentleman” to act as her stag, but Connie decides to shack up with Wragby’s sexy gamekeeper, Oliver Mellors. Working-class man Mellors proceeds to bang Connie’s brains out while teaching her fun words like “c*nt.” He also goes on a ton of weird rants about “warm-hearted f*cking,” and how much his estranged wife is a bitch and how men have no balls. More on that later.

Connie eventually does get pregnant by Mellors, but by that point, she is so rapturously in love with him (and presumably, he with her) that our protagonists seek to get divorced from their respective spouses to be together. The book ends with a romantic letter from Mellors to Connie in which he addresses “Lady Jane” from “John Thomas,” aka the protagonists’ nicknames for their genitals. 

I am not exaggerating about that last bit. I literally looked up “Lady Jane” and “John Thomas” to make sure I had not imagined it.

So I have to give D.H. Lawrence some credit for his work. He wrote “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” when class tensions were increasing in England, and the old class system was beginning to fade out. As a staunch reader of historical romance novels, I found this transitional period fascinating and worth exploring. The class tension between Connie and Mellor isn’t simply an element of their relationship but the crux of it. 

The other themes of Lawrence’s book are interesting enough:

  • Industrialism vs. nature.
  • The relationship between a person’s mind and body.
  • The radical idea that women enjoy having sex.

Many of these themes are brought up through the character Mellors, the romantic hero. And oh my God, does Mellors have a lot to say.

Mellors strikes me as the quiet guy you meet who never opens up about his feelings. Maybe this guy is a little incurious and close-minded, but you figure he’s nice enough, so you keep hanging out. Then once he gets comfortable with you, the floodgates open, and a river of idiocy so profound flows forward that you find yourself wishing you’d never met in the first place. 

think D.H. Lawrence approves of Mellors’ actions and perspective. Lawrence builds up Mellors to be a well-read man’s man who achieved a prestigious rank in the army before returning to Wragby to live a quiet life in a humble cottage. These characteristics are designed to make the character appear more impressive to the reader. And at first, Mellors seems like the kind of man who’s silent exterior belays a passionate interior. Then he begins to speak, and it’s like, “What the f*ck is this guy talking about?”

Every Mellors’ monologue made me feel like I was at Thanksgiving dinner with an unhinged conservative relative. You know the one I’m talking about – the one who’ll claims he’s all for personal freedom but then goes on an unprompted, homophobic rant and the whole time you’re just sitting there like, “Dude, I was just asking if you saw the new ‘Jumanji’ movie because I’m trying to make conversation.” 

You could ask this person the most banal question like, “Do you like bananas?” and they would somehow manage to use that to feed their dark obsession with how the world is a terrible place and humanity is doomed. I know readers are titillated because Mellors says “f*ck” and “c*nt” a lot but have you ever actually spent time with someone like that? You soon realize that person has very little worth saying beyond “f*ck” and “c*nt.” 

This is unrelated but this usage of the c-word was all I could think of throughout Lawrence’s book. Like I imagined Mellors talking about “serving c*nt” and couldn’t stop laughing.

That’s not to mention D.H. Lawrence’s misogyny. Connie is defined entirely by her relationships with other men and doesn’t even like other women. One of Mellors’ greatest grievances is when women don’t act like women and men don’t act like men. And to be honest, despite finishing this book, I still have no idea what he means by that. He also says something about hating lesbians and maybe also women who are too aggressive in bed. It really didn’t make a lot of sense to me. 

I also wasn’t sure how I was supposed to feel about Clifford, Connie’s disabled husband. If I were to hazard a guess, I think Lawrence was suggesting that since Clifford lost his sexual abilities in the war, he lost touch with an essential part of his manhood and, therefore, his humanity. His inability to love Connie sexually meant that he was unable to love Connie the way she needed. When Connie eventually leaves him, the loss of his wife, combined with his impotence, seems to cast him in an almost child-like role. Mentally, Clifford is a shrewd, intelligent adult, but due to his disability, he’s unable to be fully realized as a man.

I’m speculating on how we’re meant to interpret Clifford’s character, but obviously, I am not a fan of this story. The notion that paralyzed individual would be unable to show his wife physical affection is ridiculous and offensive. However, I would be very interested to see a story about a couple learning to navigate physical intimacy after one of them was disabled. I think that story that shows how two people can continue to love and support one another even after a facet of their relationship has to change is worth exploring. If this book had been “How Lady Chatterley’s Husband Got His Groove Back,” I probably would have liked it much more. 

So no, I didn’t like the book “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” because the story made me feel bad. 

Thus, I went into the Netflix version of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” with low expectations. I still wanted to watch it because I enjoy period dramas and because I was curious. I anticipated a decent performance from Emma Corrin, who was fantastic as Princess Diana in “The Crown.” I also knew enough not to watch this movie in the presence of others because I am not socially adept enough to navigate watching graphic simulated sex with an audience. I cannot imagine the excruciating awkwardness someone must have felt expecting a chaste British love story and getting passionate British warm-hearted f*cking. 

I enjoyed the Netflix movie so much more than the book for a simple reason. It cut out the worst of Mellors’ dialogue and, in its place, left a nice, considerate man who was romantic and physically affectionate. In the book, it’s hard to understand what Connie sees in this guy who seems uninterested in her beyond her “Lady Jane” and “fine ass.” In the movie, he’s a kind, handsome man who finds genuine happiness in Connie’s company. We see what he’s getting out of the relationship beyond good c*nt. 

I’m sure some English major will stumble across my blog and be utterly mortified at my terrible take on this ground-breaking work of British literature. I’ve read some reviews of the movie from people who admonished the film for reducing this complex tale of class differences to a simple love story. I’m going to suggest that turning this movie into a simple love story may have worked in its favor.

Look, I get that we live in this literary world where the author’s written word must be interpreted as sacred scripture, but the truth is that not every book is mind-blowing. Some books are terrible. Some books are just okay. A book nearing its one-hundredth anniversary doesn’t suddenly imbue it with literary worth. At some point, the “50 Shades of Grey” trilogy is going to be a century old, but that won’t make it less it less of an unreadable pile of dog sh*t. Therefore, if a director wants to make adaptational changes to a book, it’s not the end of the world. Nor is it inherently disrespectful to the source material. Normally I’d agree that the book is perfection and the movie is the sad Wish.com version of the story, but every once in a while a movie has the opportunity to improve upon its inspiration. I’m not nearly versed enough with D.H. Lawrence’s body of work to suggest that any Netflix adaption would be better, but I can say that I honestly enjoyed the experience of watching this movie more than I did of reading the book.

For the record, “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” is nearly as bad as “Fifty Shades of Grey.” However, I do think that because “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” was banned for obscenity, that gave it notoriety, which is why we’re still talking about it today. This notoriety is why I’m writing about it now. Beyond that, the book was not that interesting. 

If you love this book and disagree with my assessment, I apologize if I’ve upset you. The truth is, as much fun as it is to trash a bad book or movie, I much prefer liking it. So if “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” is your favorite book, and you think the Netflix film didn’t do it justice, please feel free to enlighten me. Who knows? Maybe in a few years, my opinion on this book will have changed, and if that happens, I’ll be sure to let you all know. 

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4 thoughts on “Netflix’s “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” is Better than the Book

  1. I would have to agree about Alexandra’s talent!
    I have read that book many years ago. I was 18. I did like it! I’ll have to read it again to see if I’ be become a bit wiser “a few” years later.

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  2. -My mind keeps replacing Chatterley with Chantilly
    -Already Mellors sounds like an investment banker on dating apps
    -I think Netflix is going to have to edit a lot of the dialogue from the book out based on today’s climate. When the author wrote this book, there was a lot more sexism, racism, elitism, etc. There is still a lot of that now but there was way more back then.
    -I don’t know if you know but the last gif is of Tamra Judge yelling at Vicki Gunvalson and is an iconic piece of reality TV from the Real Housewives of Orange County (reunion episode). They were both fired from the show and then Tamra was recently given another chance while Vicki is still pissed off that she won’t be hired back. The context by the way was that Tamra said Vicki’s boyfriend was not good for her and Vicki said you don’t know what’s good for me and Tamra said: THAT’S MY OPINION. I like to yell that in my mind when someone annoys me.

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