Based on the second version of the once-banned D.H. Lawrence novel of notorious high-brow pornography, the Pascale Ferran film is a study of the gradual transformation of lust into love so flower-petal beautiful that the French gave it five Caesars (their Oscars), including best picture, actress (Marina Hands) and cinematography (Julien Hirsch).
The classic story of neglected aristocrat Lady Constance Chatterley (Hands) and her affair with stoic gamekeeper Parkin (Jean-Louis Coulloc'h) unfolds with grace and extreme detail. A near-silent narrative, the plot merely has the Lady wandering away from her paralyzed, World War I veteran husband, Sir Clifford (Hippolyte Girardot), and their elegantly sterile estate mansion, into the sumptuous wilds where Parkin has a habit of cleaning his naked torso in the open air.
It doesn't take a brain surgeon to anticipate that nature takes its course in Parkin's hut, with plenty of fullfrontal nudity, but no kissing until romantic emotions have completely collapsed class barriers. Lady C grows ever more brazen, asking Sir Clifford for a key to the hut and eventually requesting permission to conceive an enfant heir to the Chatterley legacy. The always snobbish, impotent lord of the manor doesn't object, assuming the secret daddy would be a "society type," as poor Parkin puts it.
But no, the free-spirit, upper-class nature girl only has eyes and other things for the studly gamekeeper who, like it or not, is elected to perform the paternal duties. When Lady C goes off with her sister to pretend to find the "society type," we learn that Parkin suffers a meltdown, brawling in a bar and forsaking a former wife. Lady C returns to reassure her confused lover that he's the one and, though he's lost his gamekeeper position, she'll set him up at a nearby farm so they can keep the juices flowing.
If this were a nobleman keeping a servant mistress, the story would not have shocked society for more than three decades. The ahead-of-its-time feminist angle seems responsible for the longtime feather ruffling (the ban on the 1928 book wasn't lifted in England until 1960, just in time for the Beatles' British invasion).
The question is…what's the big deal now?
Nothing really. But if you have three hours to kill and want to enjoy very pretty near-pornography, "Lady Chatterley" might even be better than a romp in the woods.