When reports came out a year or so ago of the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott’s affair with his secretary, I could not imagine how someone so corpulent, rough, and irascible  could ever be considered sexy.  I’ve changed my mind. Jean-Louis Coulloc’h, the actor who played Parkin, le guard du chasse, in Pascale Ferran’s ‘Lady Chatterley’, pulls it off!  

Who can forget the scene,  straight out of Edwardian peep show, of his short stocky body running naked in the rain, arms outstretched, lips vibrating, as he chases the screaming Connie through the woods?   But is this just a frivolous comic interlude in Parkin’s taciturn reflections?  Not at all!  Ferran cuts through the ridiculous to get to the careless joy of two people, who find freedom in their love for each other.  Marina Hands, who plays Connie has a beautiful body, Coulloc’h less so, but it doesn’t matter. 

Only a French director could have the insight to portray the sexual tension without recourse to titillation.  The lingering shots of Connie’s thighs, embellished with dark spots, as Parkin first unclips, then rolls her stockings down, or the way he decorates her pubic hair, umbilicus and breasts with flowers,  are deeply erotic without being pornographic.  Even the clumsy, grunting scenes of copulation are beautiful in the genre of a wildlife documentary.  I could let my mind slip and imagine David Attenborough’s breathless voice-over. 

Lawrence’s story is familiar.  It is 1921.  The war to end all wars is over.  The survivors or what remains of them have returned home.  Sir Clifford Chatterley is paralysed from the waist down.  Constance mourns the death of their marriage.  Trapped by a sense of obligation, she whiles away her days.  Her walks in the forest bring her into contact with l’homme des bois, Parkin, a sensitive, gruff kind of bloke, who leads a life a self imposed solitude after a devastating marriage.  Their relationship begins awkwardly, but the sensual awakening that they both experience instigates their journey back to life. 

The film is a French take on a very English story.  Wragby Hall and its cottages are more Lorraine than Nottinghamshire, the East Midlands accents are replaced by subtitles and the obligatory commentary in the final scene has a softly detached dream-like quality.  But none of this matters; the exquisite photography of the woodland trees, flowers, bird and animals set the tenderness of the love scenes.  As depiction of the restorative powers of love and nature, about life after psychic death, it works.   

And if it helps us see our hapless ex-Deputy Prime Minister as less the clown and more the sensuous lover, well, I guess he would also chuckle at that.