‘Lady Chatterley’ adaptation tells a story of liberation – through clothes

Written by Marianna Cerini, CNN

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From the moment Emma Corrin appears on screen in the titular role of Netflix’s new adaptation of DH Lawrence’s novel “Lady Chatterley’s Lover”, her clothes reflect her character’s emotions.

In the opening sequence, Lady Constance Chatterley wears an understated, lace-trimmed wedding dress – a classically styled, appropriate look for the young aristocratic woman she is. Then a series of dark, polished ensembles take over when she arrives at her husband Clifford’s estate (where they move after he returns paralyzed after World War I). The muted looks indicate her role as the mistress of the house and, increasingly, a sense of being trapped in her marriage, which now lacks physical intimacy due to her husband’s injuries. Later, when she meets the gamekeeper, her future lover, Oliver Mellors, everything changes and her clothing choices become in sync with her emotional and physical release.

Emma Corrin as Lady Chatterley and Jack O'Connell as Oliver Mellors "Lady Chatterley's lover."

Emma Corrin as Lady Chatterley and Jack O’Connell as Oliver Mellors in ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’. Credit: Thanks to Netflix

“I wanted Constance’s clothes to reflect the journey she’s on and speak to the romance and freedom she’s experiencing,” the film’s costume designer, Emma Fryer, said in a telephone interview.

That freedom is at the heart of why Lawrence’s work scandalized the literary world when it was first published in 1928, a time when class relations were considered socially unacceptable and divorce was only granted on the basis of evidence of marital crime.

However, what really caused a stir was the explicit depiction of sex between the two protagonists in the book – a depiction so candid that it led to the novel being banned in several countries and sparked an obscenity lawsuit that made history in Lawrence’s native England (where it was finally published in 1960).

The new film, directed by Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, is largely faithful to the book, but presents the characters and various themes – class division, female empowerment, sexual awareness – with a depth and sensitivity rarely afforded to Lawrence’s original work. .

There are certainly plenty of steamy, lustful sex scenes. But throughout the film, Constance and Oliver – who is played by Jack O’Connell – are shown as vulnerable, even fragile creatures whose erotic bond is not only a result of physical attraction, but of the desire to be happy and free from the restrictions. of social expectations.

Corrin’s wardrobe is crucial in emphasizing that liberation and putting a fresh spin on the ever-popular historical drama genre.

"I wanted Constance's clothes to reflect the journey she's on and speak of the romance and freedom she experiences." said the film's costume designer, Emma Fryer, in a telephone interview.

“I wanted Constance’s clothes to reflect the journey she’s on and speak to the romance and freedom she’s experiencing,” the film’s costume designer, Emma Fryer, said in a telephone interview. Credit: Paris Taghizadeh/Netflix

‘Clothes you could wear today’

While her pre-Mellors outfits consist of sombre, intoxicating fabrics in dark purple and red, once she begins to master her sexuality and, increasingly, her own life, Corrin’s Lady Chatterly’s attire shifts to more lightweight, sheer materials, muslin and subtle layering (which was also designed to let go easily during those spicy sex scenes). There are airy skirts and thin, simple camisoles, cozy cardigans and delicate petticoats.

The color palette also changes, to baby pink and sunny yellow, floral prints and soft blue tones. In the latter part of the film, as she travels to Venice in the aftermath of the scandal surrounding her extramarital affair and is shunned by the high society she once belonged to, her style changes again, embracing vibrant greenery, textured patterns and bold pops of color through sashes – a hint, perhaps, to her growing sense of self-confidence.

A more relaxed-looking Lady Constance during a scene in Venice.

A more relaxed-looking Lady Constance during a scene in Venice. Credit: Massimo Calabria Matarweh/Netflix

“There’s a real sense of looseness as the movie goes on,” Fryer said of this sartorial evolution. “She’s clearly trapped when we first see her in Wragby [the estate she and Clifford live on] and then, slowly, it opens. I approached the costumes with that image in mind.”

Fryer began extensive research into the period, studying 1920s fashion, photographs and drawings from the era to create her mood board. The aesthetic she found fit seamlessly with her vision of Lady Chatterley’s metamorphosis

“The whole decade from the end of the Victorian era to the post-war years was incredibly interesting in terms of fashion because there was so much change,” she said. “Clothing became less rigid, less tailored – the corsets were finally gone. That helped bring Connie’s closet together and get even more in touch with her world and free spirit.”

To present Constance as the modern woman she is, the costume designer also drew inspiration from current styles. She visited Harrods and Selfridges in London and ended up incorporating some 21st century brands into the final looks, alongside authentic pieces and bespoke 1920s inspired pieces.

“From the very beginning, we all wanted the Contance wardrobe to have a kind of timelessness, and contemporary elements in the styling,” she explained. “She’s a woman of today, and it was important to translate that into her wardrobe.”

Mixing and matching made it “kind of playful, light and very modern,” Fryer added. “It’s clothes you could wear today and feel really good in.”

Switch into a favorite genre

This infusion of modernity puts “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” in line with a trend among popular period dramas released in recent years, said Faye Woods, an associate professor of film and television at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom.

“Many of today’s historical dramas try to approach history in different ways or from different perspectives – in Lady Chatterley’s case, from Constance’s point of view – to explore underrepresented stories and put a kind of new spin on the genre, Woods said. in a telephone interview.

"From the very beginning, we all wanted the Contance wardrobe to have a kind of timelessness, and contemporary elements in the styling," Frying explained. "She is a woman of today, and it was important to translate that into her wardrobe."

“From the very beginning, we all wanted the Contance cabinet to have a kind of timelessness, and contemporary elements in the styling,” Fryer explained. “She’s a woman of today, and it was important to translate that into her wardrobe.” Credit: Paris Taghizadeh/Netflix

“Recent adaptations allow audiences to daydream while simultaneously interpreting the past in a way they understand as close to their own world,” Woods said. “Hence their popularity. We enjoy something that’s not like us, yet we can identify with it.”

Clothing plays a key role in the phenomenon, she said.

“Costumes in period dramas so often focus on texture and touch,” Woods said. “By placing a strong emphasis on the fabric, construction and detail, they bring extra depth to the story, both in large-scale, exuberant scenarios and in very intimate settings, while drawing the viewer closer.”

In dramas whose plot predates contemporary feminism, the wardrobes of female characters in particular can serve to emphasize the limitations these women live in but try to push against. Lady Chatterley’s shift from draped dresses to delicate fabrics is a case in point: her “shedding” of formal wear is not just a style choice, but an act of freedom and resistance to aristocratic elitism.

“Lady Chatterley’s Lover” will be available on Netflix from November 25.

Add to queue: Costume dramas for the modern age

“Marie Antoinette” (2006)

Sofia Coppola’s ‘Marie Antoinette’ depicts the extravagant world of the reign of the Queen of France in the 18th century through its beautiful costume design, which includes silks, ruffles, flowers and candy-like fashions. If the movie isn’t great, the clothes are, offering real cinematic spectacle.

Clothing is a central vehicle for storytelling in Hulu’s historical comedy about Russia’s Catherine the Great, with the future Empress’ entire wardrobe growing stronger and bolder as she transforms from a naive girl seeking love to a married ruler who wants to overthrow her husband.

“Sense and Sensitivity” (1995)

Based on Jane Austen’s 1811 novel of the same name, “Sense and Sensibility” is arguably one of the most popular adaptations ever made (courtesy of Emma Thompson’s brilliant script). Here, too, the costumes are central to the story of the two female protagonists: when Marianne wears elegant dresses in deep, rich hues that suggest her passion and creativity, her older and much more grounded sister, Elinor, is dressed in white , blue, and brown – earthy colors that speak of her prudence and overriding sense of duty.

Costume designer Jacqueline Durran gave a core color palette and styling elements to each of the four March sisters in Greta Gerwig’s 2019 adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s novel “Little Women.” The results are luscious looks that reflect their unique personalities.

The series about the life of a young Emily Dickinson looks like a traditional costume drama, but the juxtaposition between the clothes – historically accurate to mid-1800s Massachusetts – and the modern script and music create a powerful tension (social expectations vs. modernity) that ultimately makes the show.

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