During a time when women’s bodies are being used as a political agenda, it is so refreshing to see a film that elevates female sensuality through the lens of consent. This film is “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” directed by Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, and is based on the classic book by D.H. Lawrence. The ideas of this book are modern by showing that sexuality and sensuality are vital to who we are.
How can we unlearn the shame that the world has built around a woman’s sensuality and enjoy it in a way that is natural? How can we as women take ownership of our own bodies and our own pleasure? These questions are answered and represented onscreen in a beautiful way. Connie (Emma Corrin) marries Sir Clifford Chatterley (Matthew Duckett) and becomes Lady Chatterley. She meets Clifford right before he heads off to World War I. They marry right before he leaves, and when he returns, he’s unable to have children because of an injury. He does want an heir so he encourages her to find someone to impregnate her in secret and when the child is born, they will become the heir. Disturbed by the fact that her husband would treat such a delicate manner in a clerical way, she isolates herself. Nature becomes her solace. Connie then meets Mellors (Jack O’Connell), the gamekeeper on the estate and they have an immediate connection. Their relationship becomes full of sexual passion, enabling Connie to explore her pleasure with Mellors. A love blooms between the two and Mellors becomes her lover. The story is told from Connie’s point of view and she narrates the film.
Emma Corrin plays Connie and she is so brave in both the physical and emotional intimacy of her work. Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre saw the potential in Emma for this role through her portrayal of Princess Diana in “The Crown”. She felt her take was so fresh and modern. When Laure approached Emma about this role, she immediately was on board. They shot the film during the height of the pandemic, and it now arrives on Netflix at a perfect time to celebrate our reconnection to people. The film is also timely showing what it looks like when women take ownership of their bodies, and the freedom in that.
I was honored to speak with Laure about her film and about all of these things. What she has been doing through her directorial efforts (“The Mustang”, “Mrs. America”) takes us under the skin of her characters. Laure is carving a career for herself as one of the top filmmakers through following her instincts. Her onscreen direction of women’s stories is what attracted me to her as a filmmaker and made me fall in love with this film.
English is not Laure’s first language so I’ve abbreviated some of her answers for the purposes of clarity.
“Lady Chatterley’s Lover” comes to Netflix tomorrow, Friday, December 2nd.
Can you talk about adapting this story for the screen?
In March 2020, during the height of the pandemic I received the script for this film. I was familiar with the story and the book. What attracted me the most to the story was the need for human connection. It resonated more because of the circumstances we’ve found ourselves in. I really identified with Connie and her need for freedom and liberation. After speaking with David (Magee) we shaped the script to make the story more from Connie’s point of view by having her as the narrator. For the film I really wanted to have it be an immersive experience, like we were under her skin. We have all felt that desire for human connection during this time, as we were deprived of it for so long. There is now this new energy we have by being together. This film is a celebration of that energy and sensuality.
Another important aspect of this film is how Connie takes ownership of her body. This aspect explores a timely and sensitive subject. Connie finds her sensuality in a way that is beautiful with no feelings of shame. This point of view was really inspired by D.H. Lawrence. He was very avant-garde in his thoughts about sexuality by showing it as a primal need where there is no need for shame. There is something about that I love exploring, especially at this time when the ownership of women’s bodies is unfortunately still very political.
Can you talk about the female point of view, the perspective, shown through the intimate scenes?
The intimate scenes were described in the script. It’s a delicate balance to shoot these scenes in a way that is not redundant, gratuitous, or boring. Emma Corrin (playing Connie) and Jack O’Connell (playing Mellors) worked a lot with our intimacy coordinator, Ida O’Brien. We rehearsed for two or three weeks prior to the shoot. We would talk about these scenes to understand the characters’ emotional journey. There had to be intention and meaning to support the narrative. We showed that through the dialogue of Connie and Mellors’ body language, showing Connie’s journey for empowerment, and Mellors’ openness to Connie’s needs.
Because of the scenes’ graphic nature we couldn’t help laughing during rehearsal. We made it fun and playful. Ida (O’Brien) is the one who made it feel like an adventure. She facilitated the whole process and eased the communication between all of us. I do not think I would have been able to effectively direct those scenes if Ida had not been there to guide me through. She made sure it was a safe environment and we all felt comfortable during the process. Ida was very professional and dynamic in her role as intimacy coordinator. Not only was she the choreographer of the scenes, but she also was a therapist if anyone was starting to feel uncomfortable. Because of her what you see onscreen is authentic, we wanted to shine a light on the sensuality as being fun and celebratory. It was a collaborative effort.
One of my favorite scenes was showing them dancing in the rain, how was it shooting that particular scene?
We knew the shape of that scene, like how it would start and how it would end. Inside of that scene it was just about being playful and improvisational. It feels like they are animals in a field, it’s a very primal instinct. It’s such an amazing feeling to be so inhibited. I think you can really feel that they really enjoyed doing the scene and it was very authentic. It came from their onscreen chemistry and their gifted abilities as actors.
Can you talk about casting Emma for the main role?
I had just seen “The Crown,” and I just thought her performance as Princess Di was so inventive. There was something so fresh about it that was completely unexpected. She gave this very specific energy that was very modern. I had Emma in mind for the part soon after I read the script. When we met we realized we wanted to do the same kind of film and bring a similar perspective to the screen. I’m so glad she embarked on this journey with me.
What do you hope people see in your film?
My hope is that people will see the importance of intimacy and sexuality in their lives and recognize it as a vital need. I hope people can see their sexuality as something beautiful, and that it can be a celebration of love, romance, and passion with someone you love. I hope that this is something that can have people feel and bring an ownership to their bodies. This film is about a woman who controls her own body. You see this onscreen through her body language. After going through a pandemic with all of the political upheaval, especially towards women, I would love to have people feel desire and enjoy their lives.
I love the nature aspects of the film. Did you shoot the film in England?
We shot the film in Wales, it’s very stunning. I had never been there before. It was incredible, we were in this place where the nature was untouched. It brought a mystery to it. There are so many aspects of nature there that you cannot see anywhere else, like breeds of birds and insects. There were these beautiful palettes of greens. It’s a very interesting part of the world.
What’s something you’ve learned about the filmmaking process that you can share with our readers?
Trust your gut. The only thing we have for ourselves is our instincts. Our instincts are very precious and important. Everybody is going to try to pull you in different directions, but as long as you trust yourself and listen to your instincts you are always heading in the right direction.
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