An upcoming TV version has taken liberties with Lady Chatterley’s Lover, not least toning down some of the language, writes Susan Griffin.
THERE’S been a lot of talk about the latest small screen adaptation of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and how explicit it will be. The 1928 novel, written by DH Lawrence, gained notoriety for its explicit language and sexual descriptions, and was banned in the UK until 1960. But Jed Mercurio, who has directed and written the latest BBC version — which stars Holliday Grainger as Lady Chatterley, James Norton as Sir Clifford and Richard Madden as the gamekeeper Mellors — doesn’t believe it’s “an obscene story”, and anyone expecting pornographic trysts between Lady Chatterley and her husband’s gamekeeper will be sorely disappointed.
“DH Lawrence chose to use a certain kind of language in the book because it was groundbreaking and he was making a point about artistic expression, but that battle’s been won,” notes Mercurio, who insists he wasn’t thinking of previous versions of the story while writing his take on the tale.
“The idea was to tell it as a love story, a love triangle, and focus on the emotions of the characters,” he adds.
Here, the three leads discuss their interpretation of the infamous story, and what it was like bringing it to life for the small screen.
Holliday Grainger, who rose to fame in The Borgias, hadn’t read the book before she got the part of Lady Constance Chatterley.
“All I knew was that it was a really steamy, racy read and my grandparents had always said that the copy was well-thumbed in libraries, and one particular middle central page,” reveals the Manchester-born 27-year-old. “But as a modern reader, post-Fifty Shades Of Grey, I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t see what all the fuss is about!”’
Mercurio’s adaptation differs from the book by exploring the relationship Constance and her husband Sir Clifford enjoyed before the war —– and the injuries that leave him in a wheelchair.
“In Jed’s adaptation, the character of Clifford is a lot more rounded, you really get to see that he isn’t a bad guy that wants all the lower classes to die, he’s quite likeable,” explains Grainger.
“You do see it was a marriage of love, it’s just that as with most relationships, your first love isn’t the love you have for life.”
While Constance shares an intellectual bond with Clifford, “Mellors has such an amazing tenderness,” notes the actress.
“It’s what she completely lost with Clifford since he has come back from the war and lost his ability to connect on an emotional level,” she continues. “It’s animalistic in a way, it’s about the comfort, it’s not the material idea of safety she is attracted to.”
The novel might be almost a century old, but Grainger believes the issues of social class and structure still resonate today.
“And I think what the novel actually is about is a woman’s decision of self-growth and self-understanding, and what you want in life and in a life partner. That’s something that people will always be thinking about.”
James Norton might joke that he’s “flying the flag for Team Clifford”, but he stresses that this time around, his character is a lot more sympathetic than past depictions.
“In the book, he’s older than I am and usually quite stuffy and unsympathetic,” explains the 30-year-old. “In our version, Jed’s changed that and made the triangle more acute. He’s a man of the period and has the same prejudices and class snobbery, but you understand where it’s coming form.
“He’s a tragic figure, having come home from the war and unable to satisfy his wife. I hope, if I’ve done my job properly, you like him.”
Norton believes Clifford and his wife would have gone on to have a very happy relationship if the injury hadn’t happened.
“Slowly, he can’t engage with the body and becomes entrenched in the intellectual,” explains the actor, who was Bafta-nominated for his role as the psychopathic Tommy Lee Royce in Happy Valley.
He says the experience of sitting in a wheelchair for hours on end during filming was eye-opening.
“You have to wait for people to come to you, and then when you’re chatting with someone, they have to leave,” explains the actor, adding, however, the old-fashioned motorised wheelchair was a lot of fun.
“The whoops are genuine as I was having the time of my life. For me, it was like boys with toys. I just had to remember to say my lines,” he recalls, laughing. “Although what you also don’t see in about 50 per cent of the scenes, is the art department pulling the chair with with a massive rope when it got stuck.”
Although he’s playing the same character, Richard Madden decided not to revisit the 1993 mini series starring his former Game Of Thrones co-star Sean Bean in the role of Mellors.
“I blocked it out of my mind, just to prevent myself being influenced. So many people have owned this character before me, so I’ve got to respect that, but also find what his heart is to me,” explains the Scottish actor, who believes this telling “feels very modern, even though the language isn’t.
“There isn’t a detachment that you can often find with period stuff,” he adds, crediting Mercurio with writing a version which isn’t clear-cut.
“It’s a triangle and everyone’s just trying to do the best with the life they’ve been given,” remarks the 29-year-old, who also worked with Grainger on the recent Cinderella movie, in which she played one of the stepsisters and he portrayed Prince Charming.
“He’s a true gentleman, and in many ways, Mellors is, but in very different worlds,” he notes of the two roles.
“I think that’s why I was drawn to this part, as I was with that, because there are human elements I hadn’t seen or read before. That’s what I really wanted to delve into and explore, and really bring out.”
He doesn’t think the story can shock people any more.
“Now you can click on the internet and find whatever you want, so I don’t think there’s much left to shock anyone,” says Madden.
“And I’m not trying to shock, that’s not what we’re about.”
Lady Chatterley’s Lover airs on BBC One on Sunday at 9pm
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