In fall 2015, the BBC released a new version of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, the considered-obscene-at-the-time-of-publication (1928) story of an upper-class woman married to a disabled World War I veteran, who shags and falls in love with her gamekeeper. It stars Holliday Grainger (The Borgias) as Lady Connie Chatterley and Richard Madden (Game of Thrones) as Oliver Mellors. It’s only aired in the UK, but will no doubt come to American shores sometime in 2016.
This version pushes the action earlier to just post-WWI, and focuses much more on the class and gender role issues than the shagging. Now, I haven’t read the D.H. Lawrence book on which this is based (sorry!), and I’m sure if I had I’d have all sorts of opinions about the changes made to the story. Instead, all I can compare it to is my (admittedly vague) memories of the 1993 version starring Sean Bean, from which I mostly remember lots of shagging (I recommend it if you’re in the mood for some costume smut).
So, trying to take this production on its own terms … I generally liked it! Holliday Grainger is a talented actress, and I felt like I had a pretty good understanding of the emotions behind Connie and her husband (Sir Clifford). Gamekeeper Mellors’ motivation was a bit more opaque — he’s lower class, he’s in the war, he’s now a gamekeeper, the lady of the house wants a hug, suddenly they’re shagging in his hut. I don’t know!
The timeline was moved earlier than most adaptations go, in order to focus on the effects of World War I on Sir Clifford (and then the resulting effects on his wife Connie).
[Writer/director] Mercurio wanted to emphasise youth, as messed up by bombs and mines, rather than jaded adulthood. Accordingly, the later of two ball scenes was costumed and soundtracked for 1919, not the mid-1920s of the novel (Lady Chatterley’s Lover: Script consultant to BBC adaptation on arguing over sex scenes and dressing up in historic knickers).
I did feel like they went a bit heavy-handed on the gender-role-thing, particularly when Sir Clifford tells Lady Chatterley that he “ought to be a figure of potency” for her (ugh). Yes, that’s definitely what is going on in his world, but putting it that way just makes me want to retch quietly in the corner.
And finally, apparently there are two drafts of the novel’s ending, and this one goes VERY hopeful. Except, while I’m very much for egalitarianism, I can’t help thinking that Connie and Oliver are going to have a difficult life. For one thing, she’s going to expect a certain standard of living that he can’t provide based on his work experience as a miner, soldier, and gamekeeper. For another, I can’t imagine that either the upper OR lower classes will accept them together, so I doubt they’ll have many friends. Oh well, I guess that’s another novel?
Costumes in Lady Chatterley’s Lover
The fact that this production came from the BBC is probably a factor as to why the costume designer went for realism. That, and the World War I tie-in — the 100th anniversary of World War I was a HUGE deal in the UK. Sadly most of the press around the film dealt with its smuttiness and accuracy (or lack thereof) to the novel, so I don’t have much information on what costume designer Sarah Arthur was going for. I can tell you that this appears to be her first period piece.
Overall, I’d say the themes here are “verisimilitude” and “winter” (of the spirit/soul?). Everyone looks very real — Connie’s daywear is frequently opulent, but it’s also very functional, and she’s often seen being active, either riding or walking in the woods. The one hitch is that I’d say her wardrobe is more 1914-15 than 1918-19, while her hair has touches of the 1920s. The “winter” theme is, I believe, a way of showing Connie’s emotions as her husband has withdrawn emotionally from her due to his war experiences and his disability. She does wear color — dark browns, rust, dull blues — but she’s always wearing a cold winter beige color (usually a blouse) as well. Frigid (no, not sexually!), anyone?
Let’s get the boys out of the way first:
Richard Madden is definitely hot, although just a touch Neanderthal, as Mellors. He’s generally in “working man’s” gear:
Sir Clifford is dapper pre-War:
Post-War, he continues to be dapper, but is more 1) covered up (showing his emotional barriers?) and 2) earthy:
We only get two scenes of Connie pre-War:
The wedding dress and accessories were GORGEOUS. According to the costume shop that restored it, “This was an original period wedding dress of the time, which had pretty much rotted away on the inside, so we basically took it all apart and very delicately and painstakingly slowly re-made it!” (Sara Fay Tailoring).
Then post-War — here’s where Connie’s wardrobe sticks to pre-War styles. I’m not saying they’re totally wrong, or that it doesn’t make sense that a well-to-do lady living in a rural area wouldn’t wear her clothes for more than a season or be slightly behind the times. It’s just that there isn’t much difference from her pre-War wardrobe, and they don’t quite catch any of the almost-1920s trends of 1918-19.
Compare some images of 1914 fashions:
- Straight, columnar silhouette
- Below ankle length skirts
- Slightly raised waists
- Tunic overskirts
- Blousey tops
With those of 1919:
- Hemlines above ankle
- Fuller skirts
- Lower, looser waistline
- Still tunic overskirts
- Still blousey tops
Now let’s look at Connie’s wardrobe, and see what the hell I’m talking about!
Connie’s sober suit is worn when her husband returns from the war, and for other with-husband activities. I think it’s a bit armor-like.
Her riding habit is in blue flecked wool with split skirt and PANTS (SO fab), and again with a beige-y white blouse:
She wears this nightgown and bed jacket while she’s still trying to make a go of things with Clifford:
She first speaks to Mellors in a similar outfit to the first suit, although with a shawl, giving her a softer look:
This is what she’s wearing underneath:
Then when she and Mellors really start to connect, she adds to her dull, dark blue and beige with some floral/greenery appliques — she’s starting to bud?
And under everything, winter-y, pale, beige-y/white blouses with lots of gorgeous details:
As Connie and Mellors’s relationship deepens (ahem), she starts introducing brown into her wardrobe while with her husband:
But wears this all beige-y white number with Mellors — here it reads to me less as emotionally frigid as early spring, beginning to thaw:
This dress seems to be her “trying to be emotionally sophisticated about having an affair” outfit:
Then there’s what I take to be her most emotional outfit, a rust ensemble with a beautiful, multi-color lace applique:
And then there’s her running-off-with-Mellors look:
Now, compare all those images to the fashion plates above, and you can wonder with me where are the lower, looser waistlines; fuller skirts; and higher hemlines of 1919!
In addition to her meeting-Sir-Clifford pre-War dress, there are two evening scenes. In the first, Connie is in the midst of her “I can hang! I’m sophisticated!” stage of thinking she can remain married to Sir Clifford and shag Mellors.
Then there’s the “it’s all crashing down around me” evening dress:
Now let’s talk a bit about hair and accessories. I LOVED how they added many different small touches that added a lot of realism to Connie’s wardrobe.
There are a LOT of great hat trimmings:
Hair-wise, I thought they did a GREAT job with Connie’s updos. They were appropriate to the period, they were pretty, and she ALWAYS wore her hair up whenever there was company. What confused me, however, was that sometime in 1918-19, they cut her hair into a long bob. They still styled it up for anything other than Connie-on-her-own time, but this seemed AWFULLY fashion-forward for an aristocratic woman whose husband seems pretty conservative, and who hasn’t bothered to update her wardrobe in the past few years.
It’s not a happy movie, nor is it terribly steamy. But it is melancholy, well-acted, and the costumes — while not cutting-edge fashionable — are beautifully designed and made. Keep an eye out — we’ll update you Americans as to when this will air over on our side of the pond!
I have read the book. One of the things that stayed with me about Connie from it, was that she was described as ‘frumpy’ and ‘old fashioned’ several times – very twinset-and-pearls in amongst on the bright young things of the 20s. So I can only think that clothes which are 5 years out of date for the period is an attempt to reference that. The clothes are simply too nice and well-kept to hint at poverty meaning she couldn’t update her wardrobe. I know that in the book Connie doesn’t care about what she wears as she’s effectively cut off from society, a carer for her sick husband, and has largely withdrawn from the world.
That said, this was a nice production without some of the stuff from the books and the earlier production that made me cringe.
INTERESTING. As I said, I haven’t read the book. I don’t see Connie as a frumpy character AT ALL in either adaptation (this one or the Sean Bean one), so that’s a good thing to know. HMMM.
Also, WWI brought on heavy rationing, as bad as WWII and then some, and there was the influenza pandemic at the end of the war, too. It was rather a dark time in many ways.
There’s a Swedish writer called Elin Wägner, who worked as a journalist and produced several feminist novels from the early 1900’s and onwards. She wrote a lovely and rather bleak story in 1919, Kvarteret Oron, Stormy Corner in English, about an upper class woman with a mentally disabled son whose husband drinks himself to death towards the end of the war, leaving her at the very beginning of the novel with a large house that she loves but can’t afford to keep, unless – plot twist – she somehow manages to sell the huge amounts of alcohol the husband has stashed away on the black market.
Everything is rationed, not least alcohol. Since this is at the beginning of the most restrictive period of the Swedish alcohol regulation system, alcohol is only sold subject to strict governmental rules, and it’s pretty much impossible to get hold of, anyway. An amount of this size should be handed in to the government, no compensation, but there is a huge demand and it’s worth a fortune on the black market. As a single woman it’s very hard for her to broker an illegal sale, though, she would risk prosecution and personally, she would mostly like to pour it all out. Her first priority is to keep her disabled son in the expensive nursing home he lives and feels safe in, though, so the money must at least be weighed against the risks. So she puts the house up for sale, gets a job, for the first time in her life, moves into a dingy apartment shared with a group of other single working women, barely makes ends meet and battles with her conscience.
That novel really brought home the facts of WWI rationing for me. Another interesting tidbit is that at least in the US and Great Britain, wool and linen were heavily rationed, as they were used by the war industry (uniforms and airplanes), but silk, while expensive, was not (parachutes were thought to make pilots cowardly and not used, no really), so women were encouraged to wear more silk, even for daytime. That explained why there are so many weirdly extravagant-looking extant silk daytime ensembles, fashion illustrations and patterns suggesting silk for daywear from WWI, I always found that odd.
Anyway; comparatively old-fashioned looks kinda make sense in 1919, up to a point.
Interesting, thanks! I wasn’t surprised by Lady Chatterley’s slightly dated look, just more that she paired that with bobbed hair. It’s my understanding that it’s only super artsy, Greenwich Village types that would do so pre-1920ish.
Yes, that’s true. 1910’s fashion icon Irene Castle cut off her hair right before the outbreak of WWI because of an illness or accident, can’t remember the details. Apparently it wasn’t intentional, anyway, and well before it became a fashion, but she turned lemons into lemonade and made it look good. It was probably still very fashion-forward and possibly shocking years into the 1920’s. We used to have a long braid that the youngest of my great-grandmother’s two sisters, born in 1901, supposedly cut off and had made into a hairpiece that she used for updos in the early 1920’s, because their parents would have had a fit.
That’s SO cool about the hairpiece!! I hope someone still has it.