The most grubbily-thumbed paperback of all time makes its transition to the small screen in BBCl’s Lady Chatterley. But, as Tom Lappin discovers, the smut is at a premium, despite the involvement of Ken Russell.
Thirty-three years after the celebrated obscenity trial, Lady Chatterley 's Lover still manages to summon up a frisson of titillation. despite the fact that
like a rather tame and outdated class-conscious bodice-ripper.
The legacy ofthat peculiarly high-profile trial (in which prosecuting counsel Sir Mervyn Grifﬁth notoriously suggested that it wasn‘t the sort of book
will still linger around the BBC‘s TV adaptation of the novel. starring Sean Bean as game garnekeeper Mellors and Joely Richardson as the less-than- constant Constance. Particularly as it‘s directed by Ken Russell, a flamboyant director who’s always had a penchant for upfront ﬂesh. His first stab at a Lawrence adaptation. 1970‘s Women In Love, not only stripped Glenda Jackson down to basics. but involved Alan Bates and Oliver Reed in a nude wrestling scene on a fur rug. The mind, among other bits. boggled.
Reports from the set of Lady Chatterley suggest however that the raunch is much restrained this time around. Russell‘s fondness for extravagant fantasy has also been curbed. The sexual nature of Lawrence‘s novel hasn‘t been shirked. but as 10er Richardson points out. it‘s not the be-all and end-all. ‘The whole story has such a strength.‘ she says. ‘The nude scenes may be explicit. but they are not titillating or voyeuristic. You won‘t snigger this time — although you might gasp.‘
Co-star James Wilby. who plays her crippled husband Clifford is equally keen to play down the salaciousness angle. ‘I think it‘s all quite tame.‘ he says. ‘certainly compared to other things around at the moment. particularly on TV. The only time you actually see her naked is not in a sex scene anyway.‘
If that aspect of Russell‘s directorial style is mostly absent. so too is the indulgent surreal approach present in some of his more left-field creations. Lady Chatterley remains faithful to the structure of the novel. although as Wilby points out, there are more ways than one of moving the narrative on.
‘Ken‘s one of the few directors around who believe in telling a story through pictures rather than just words.‘ he says. ‘The whole choice of camera angles and shots are ways he uses to portray information to the audience. And it's not too stylised. There are a : couple ofdream sequences but mostly it‘s just continuing the story.‘
55 The List 4e-l7 June l993
Lawrence‘s ‘shootin‘ and shaggin“ novel now seems .1
‘you would even wish your wife or servants to read.‘)
Wilby accepted the part because the role of the ; vicious husband Clifford is given as much attention as Mellors. ‘They haven‘t made it just a love story.‘ 2 he says. ‘In the novel Mellors and Clifford were : given equal weight and it‘s the same in this. If § anything old Clifford has got more scenes. ‘ Whenever I open my mouth I don‘t half wafﬂe on.‘ And he emerges as a complete bastard in the process . . . ‘The audience and every single character - knows what‘s going on except him, so there should be some sympathy. But this man is a fascist. not a nice man at all. Lawrence describes him as insect- like in his approach. very analytical with a quick mind and no emotion.‘
‘The nude scenes may be explicit, but ? they are not titillating or voyeuristic.
i You won’t snigger this time - although you might gasp.’
The problem with lady ( ‘hatterley's Lover. apart from it being one of Lawrence‘s weaker works. is its outdated moral climate. Viewers of the recently repeated The Men 's Room might ﬁnd its marital shenanigans rather. shall we say. anticlimactic‘? ‘People ask why do we do period work.‘ says Wilby. ‘wonder where the relevance is to the present? But if you look back. you can see parallels with the ways people behave now. In the 80s for instance there was this real return to selfish politics. individuals creating wealth and to hell with those who are losing it. That‘s exactly what this man Clifford is like. He wants to hang on to what he's got. And what‘s the story about? It‘s not so much about adultery as about a woman trying to find true happiness in sex and love. That‘s still relevant. A lot of people end up being trapped in marriages and the actual step of saying “I‘m sorry I‘m leaving" is still
James Wilby as Clittord
quite a tough move to make.‘
Not that Wilby is under any illusions that the critics are going to trip over themselves searching for approbatory adjectives. ‘There‘s an attitude in this country that you should slag off anything horne- grown,‘ he moans. ‘The press will have a serious go at attacking it because they seem to like attacking Ken Russell. and Joely Richardson as well for some reason. But. so what. it‘s very good television. and millions of people will watch it.‘ Who knows. maybe even a few wives or servants among them.
Lady Chatterley starts on BBC 1 on Sunday 6 June.