Emma Corrin on the erotic power of ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’
The actor dropped into 76 Dean Street to discuss playing the lead in Netflix’s sensuous adaptation of the once-scandalous literary classic
Friday 2 December By Rosalind Jana Photography by Jennifer McCord
What does it take these days for a story to be shocking? When DH Lawrence finished writing Lady Chatterley’s Lover in 1928, his novel was deemed too sexually explicit to go on sale. For several decades it was published privately abroad, only making it to Britain’s bookshelves in 1960 after an explosive obscenity trial in which the chief prosecutor Mervyn Griffiths-Jones infamously asked whether it was the kind of novel ‘you would… wish your wife or servants to read’. When the trial was lost and the book was published by Penguin Books, it sold 200,000 copies in a day – and two million over the next two years.
Nearly a century after it was completed, Lawrence’s steamy story of class differences and sexual awakening might not have quite the same capacity to scandalise, but it still holds a satisfyingly provocative power. Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre’s new adaptation for Netflix stars Emma Corrin as unhappily married, upper-class Connie Chatterley and Jack O’Connell as her gamekeeper, Oliver Mellors
It is a sensual retelling infused with reverence for the outdoor world: this passionate affair set against a verdant backdrop, full of all the freedoms denied to Connie in the gloomy stately home where she lives with her unfeeling husband. As this moving examination of desire and physical kinship unfolds, Clermont-Tonnerre’s sensitive direction and Benoît Delhomme’s lush cinematography – not to mention the magnetic performances of its two leads – make it feel like a very sexy Merchant Ivory movie.
After a recent screening of Lady Chatterley’s Lover at 76 Dean Street, Soho House welcomed Emma Corrin for a live Q&A. Corrin featured in a cover story for Netflix Queue’s latest issue, where I interviewed them about DH Lawrence’s modernity and the terrifying thrill of dancing naked in the rain. Here we unravelled some of those conversational threads further to discuss the depiction of female pleasure on screen, the immersive process of working with Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, the joys and tribulations of filming outdoors as autumn encroached, and how a script can add contemporary nuances to a near-hundred-year-old narrative.
Was Lady Chatterley’s Lover a book you had encountered before you took on the role of Connie?
Emma: In all honesty, no. I was aware of it but I hadn't read it. I read the script first and then I read the book afterwards.
What were your first impressions of it?
Emma: I was shocked by how modern the erotic language was, particularly around female sexuality. I feel that if it was published today, people would be talking about it, which was so striking. It was really incredible.
When the script first came to you, what was it about Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre’s vision for this version of Lady Chatterley that you were attracted to?
‘I’d seen her 2019 film The Mustang and loved it so much. I thought that with the way that that film deals with the idea of liberation, Laure seemed to really understand and portray so beautifully the complexity and the really intense internal life of someone who's trapped and longing for freedom, but not exactly sure where their place is in that liberation or that search for themselves.
‘When I read the script for Lady Chatterley’s Lover I saw how much of it was through Connie’s eyes, which really appealed to me, and I could instantly see how Laure would be the perfect person to adapt it. And also, the fact that she was a female director was so important to me.’
What was it like working with her?
‘It was really incredible. There was a huge sense of safety, which was obviously so integral to so much of what we were doing on set, as well as a real sense of collaboration and camaraderie. For a lot of the scenes, we were at the mercy of the elements. The cast and crew therefore really needed each other as allies.
‘With Laure, she just had an incredible vision for the film. I always think the mark of an incredible director is one who clearly has amazing vision but also lets you – the actor – in and makes you feel like you’re a collaborator.’
Is it right to say that the dancing nude in the rain scene was the first one you shot with Jack?
‘Yes, it was. We did have two weeks of rehearsal prior to shooting which was such a blessing because you rarely get that in film, but it was also so integral to Lady Chatterley’s Lover because of the sex scenes. We worked closely with intimacy coordinator Ita O’Brien and together we charted out emotionally where the sex scenes would take them because we never wanted anything to be gratuitous. By the time we started shooting, we felt very comfortable and safe with each other which had a lot to do with our intimacy coordinator.’
As a character, Connie’s so headstrong and vivacious, but also so trapped. What was it that you felt you wanted to pull out of her in the version you were playing?
‘I was intrigued to explore her curiosity, in terms of the world in general but also herself. It interested me how, when she marries Clifford and moves to Wragby with him, she genuinely feels like this is going to work and that she’s doing the right thing. It takes her quite a long time to realise and understand what she’s missing and I think that’s very relatable. So often we don’t necessarily know what we want until it happens to us.
‘I also enjoyed Connie’s playfulness, she has this real energy and youth to her which is ultimately so at odds with Clifford’s. Something that was really important to us was making an audience believe that both her and Clifford thought their relationship would work, so that her meeting Mellors and starting their relationship was never an obvious thing but something unexpected.’