For further proof that international film accolades are no more a gauge of quality than the Oscars, Lady Chatterley arrives on domestic shores boasting a résumé that includes five 2007 French César Awards, including ones for Best Picture, Best Actress, and Best Cinematography. It's the last of these that's most undeserved, as Pascale Ferran's adaptation of the second, less well-known version of D.H. Lawrence's controversial classic (known by the title John Thomas and Lady Jane) shouldn't be associated with the term "cinematic" in almost any way, shape or form. Originally produced for television at a whopping 220 minutes and then cut down to its current, still-bloated theatrical running time of 168 minutes, the film is visually indistinguishable from your run-of-the-mill PBS mini-series save for its copious nudity, which speaks less to its big-screen bona fides than the gap between European and American television standards. Center-frame compositions aren't, however, the Achilles Heel of this stately slog of a period piece, since a more pressing – and ultimately insurmountable – deficiency is pace. Because, you see, Lady Chatterley. Is. One. Of. The. Most. Sluggish. Erotic-Lit. Movies. Ever.
Airless, nondescript and mundane are also suitable adjectives to describe Ferran's faithful telling of the 1921 tale of titular lady Constance (the excellent Marina Hands), a quiet, obedient woman stuck in a stultifying marriage to Clifford (Hippolyte Girardot), a WWI vet confined by battlefield injury to a wheelchair. Clifford is a cold fish of an invalid who provides his wife with neither emotional nor sexual comfort, and thus left to her own devices, Constance soon finds other sources of male attention – namely, her husband's gamekeeper Parkin (Jean-Louis Coulloc'h). Out for a walk amidst the fertile (and highly symbolic) vegetation, Constance stumbles upon Parkin bathing his naked torso in the morning sun, a sight that arouses such sudden feelings in her neglected nether regions that she flees to her bedroom, where she strips and gazes at her unclothed physique like someone who'd forgotten it existed. This reassessment of herself as a sexual being is quickly aided by Parkin, whom Constance begins habitually visiting on her daily walks until, predictably, their friendship explodes in a passionate kiss and, shortly thereafter, sweaty embraces, hushed moans, and revelatory penetration.