Lady Chatterley’s Lover – bringing D.H. Lawrence’s novel to a new generation

The final novel written by the imperious D.H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover remains a towering achievement in English literature and had frequently been adapted on stage, screen, and radio since it was first published in 1928. And yet a feature-length movie version has not been seen for almost two decades. Producer Laurence Mark set out to change that with a fresh, modern look at a classic story of a passionate affair that crosses the class divide.

“It seemed to me that sex was well represented in limited series and on television — but was somewhat lacking in movies, so I thought, ‘Well, let’s bring sex back to the movies.’ And Lady Chatterley’s Lover seemed like an ideal place to begin,” says Mark, whose well respected for producing Jerry Maguire, Dreamgirls, and The Greatest Showman.

“The idea was to take a fresh, modern look at the D.H. Lawrence classic and have it be told primarily from Lady Chatterley’s point of view, which I don’t believe has ever really been done,” says Mark.

As the idea began to percolate back in 2013, the services of acclaimed screenwriter David Magee were engaged to adapt the book. Also arriving to help shepherd the film into production was Sony’s 3000
Pictures founder Elizabeth Gabler and Executive Vice President of 3000 Pictures Marisa Paiva, who both previously worked with Magee on Ang Lee’s four-time Oscar winning Life of Pi. When the script came
their way, they were smitten.

“I was mesmerized by the extraordinary passion and sweeping romance of the novel. Set against the lush
backdrop of the English countryside, the story of Connie Chatterley and Oliver Mellors made me believe that true love is possible and real,” says Gabler. “I feel that is a theme that will also inspire modern audiences.”

Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Emma Corrin as Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Jack O’Connell in Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

I think everybody wants to find love, and nobody knows where it’s going to come from,” says producer Pete Czernin. “And I think forbidden love is also even more attractive in terms of literature and movies…finding somebody that you can’t have. Finding somebody that you’re destined to be with – it’s an ideal for everyone, isn’t it really? A good, big, old fashioned love story never goes out of style, I don’t think. People crave that connection. And they want to see people find each other, in the hope that they can do the same in their own lives.”

Czernin, co-founder of Blueprint Pictures with Graham Broadbent, whose works as producer include In Bruges, The Riot Club and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, stepped in as soon as he’d read Magee’s draft, convinced that the timeless qualities of Lawrence’s novel would make for a resonant drama for 21st Century audiences.

“People are always interested in great stories of love with great obstacles,” says Magee. “This holds true whether they were written today or a century ago. “The thing that got me interested in this was that these people [Lady Constance Chatterly (Emma Corrin) and Lord Clifford Chatterley (Matthew Duckett)] became divorced from their emotions.” It was post-World War I England and the world was still reeling from the trauma “Soldiers lost limbs, they lost loved ones and found their lives torn apart. They were broken and had to find their way back into society and learn to trust others and loving other people.”

David Magee is a veteran screenwriter, his work spanning over 20 years in the entertainment industry including film, theater and television. He wrote the screenplays of Finding Neverland (2004), Life Of Pi (2012) , Mary Poppins Returns (2018) The School of Good and Evil for Netflix (2022), A Man Called Otto (2022) The Graveyard Book (2022) and The Little Mermaid (2023).

David Magee chose to tilt his story toward the exploration of love despite D.H. Lawrence being a staunch advocate for the free and open expression of sexuality. “Being in touch with your body, your needs, and desire to touch another person.” These two concepts are not mutually exclusive or opposing. Magee believes that Lawrence was more an advocate of  “passion and openness to another person rather than pure physical pleasure.” He wanted to protest agains the British cultural decision to cut themselves off from something so vital that makes us human. “The ruling class have taught themselves to frown upon caring and loving as a sign of weakness.” This emotional disconnection allowed them to send people to war without raising an eyebrow.

Read more about David Magee discussing Lady Chatterley’s Lover

As the production gathered pace, the team focused on choosing a visionary director to bring Magee’s script to the screen

French filmmaker Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre rose to the top of the list, thanks to her beguiling 2019 debut feature The Mustang, a story that similarly to Lawrence’s novel had an innate connection to nature.

Clermont-Tonnerre had first encountered Lady Chatterley’s Lover when she was in her late teens, later revisiting the story through various screen adaptations. When she read Magee’s script, it resonated with
her, feeling both timely and timeless.

“I immediately felt connected to the scenes of imprisonment, and nature and connection,” she says. “And I thought it was a very timely story to tell about human connection, and most importantly, about the freedom of a woman who can control her body. And so all those scenes resonated with me in a very strong way.”

When Clermont-Tonnerre came on board, she began working with Magee on fine-tuning the script, to tell the story from Connie’s point of view. “And obviously, that was the goal from D.H. Lawrence at the time, because he was expressing a message about glorifying sexuality instead of being ashamed of it,” she says. “So in that sense, he was one of the very few male writers to address female sexual pleasure. And that’s why it was so scandalous. But it was in the sense of really glorifying the revitalization of human beings through connections, sensuality, nature. And it was very avant-garde. No one was really ready to accept
it. And we are not fully ready yet to accept it today.”

Clermont-Tonnerre made her directorial debut with The Mustang in 2029 from a screenplay she wrote, followed by the pilot, second and sixth episodes of Hulu’s Emmy-winning The Act, and also directed a block of FX limited series Mrs. America and of the FX limited series Impeachment.

With Clermont-Tonnerre attached, another vital partnership that was cemented was with Netflix

The streaming site had joined forces with 3000 Pictures, with Lady Chatterley’s Lover the first film to come out of their first-look deal.

“Netflix has been an ideal partner, and the executives there have been incredibly smart and sensitive
about the material – and also remarkably supportive and collaborative” says Mark.

With the elements falling into place, it was time to bring D.H. Lawrence’s novel to a new generation.

The search for an actress led the team to Emma Corrin, the rising star who found acclaim for their performance as a young Lady Diana Spencer in the fourth season of Netflix sensation The Crown.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Emma Corrin as Lady Chatterley’s Lover in Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

Corrin felt excited to bring Connie to the screen for contemporary audiences. “I think it says so much about what it is to be a woman needing sexual pleasure and intimacy and the legitimacy of that need
and that want. It is not something that you should be ashamed about. It is not something that you
should deprive yourself of. It is something that we all need. And I think that Connie’s journey is one of realization – she needs to embrace that side of her. To really foreground this in this film has been really
important to both Laure and I, to really make sure that the journey is really Connie bringing herself alive in that way.”

BAFTA-winning British actor Jack O’Connell had caught Clermont-Tonnerre’s eye in two heralded films, ’71 and Starred Up, and she sensed a “fine balance between masculinity and femininity” in the actor. “

Following his appearance on stage, in Tennessee Williams Pulitzer Prize winning play Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, Jack starred in the original Netflix Western drama series Godless.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Jack O’Connell as Oliver Mellors in Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

When he was approached about the part in Lady Chatterley’s Lover, O’Connell was taken with Lawrence’s novel. “I love the book. I think the book is phenomenal,” he says. “I think it’s probably one of the best pieces of writing I’ve certainly ever encountered. I think it’ll be a constant book that I keep going back to. I think the author…he writes very deeply about a topic, I think, that involves us all really. And that’s a question mark over what love might be, the different versions of love.”

To find Sir Clifford Chatterley, Connie’s husband who was injured in the war, the team were very keen to open the casting net as wide as possible. The casting process led them to Matthew Duckett, an actor with
cerebral palsy whose work in the theatre had seen him play Loyal in The Royal National Theatre’s production of Tartuffe.

“I’ve been in a great many productions where I’ve been allowed to live in my disability, which has been incredibly freeing as an actor,” says Duckett. “It’s a marvelous change to see in the work. But something I was really grateful to see happen was to have someone on-set dedicated to my needs as a disabled artist
and to the honesty of the production of a disabled character.”

Lady Chatterley’s Lover. (L to R) Emma Corrin as Lady Constance, Jack O’Connell as Oliver, Matthew Duckett as Clifford in Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Cr. Seamus Ryan/Netflix © 2022.

This story of a passionate affair that crosses the class divide is one of the most talked about books of the 20th Century

An erotic classic, and the first work to truly explore female sexual pleasure, it’s frequently been adapted on stage, screen, and radio since it was first published in 1928. And yet a feature-length movie version has not been seen for almost two decades.

Marrying Sir Clifford Chatterley, Connie’s life of wealth and privilege seems set as she takes the title of Lady Chatterley. Yet this idealistic union gradually becomes an incarceration when Clifford returns from the First World War with injuries that have left him unable to walk. When she meets and falls for Oliver Mellors, the gamekeeper on the Chatterley family estate, their secret trysts lead her to a sensual, sexual awakening. But as their affair becomes the subject of local gossip, Connie faces a life-altering decision: follow her heart or return to her husband and endure what Edwardian society expects of her