Lady Chatterley

Lady Chatterley

Making hay

Tom Dawson meets the new Lady Chatterley, French star of stage and screen, Marina Hands

Showjumping’s loss is cinema’s gain. As a teenager Marina Hands was a sufficiently accomplished equestrienne to feature in the French junior national team, along with the future actor-director Guillaume Tell No One Canet. ‘We weren’t good enough to become professional,’ she says, letting out an infectious laugh. ‘We went quite far, but Guillaume stopped before me. I remember him saying to me: “I want to go to Paris and study drama”, and I was so surprised.’

Acting turns out to be in the 32-year-old Hands’ blood. Her father Terry is the English stage director, and her mother Ludmila Mikaël is a French actress. Hitherto most of Marina’s work has been concentrated in the theatre – she is a member of the Comedie Française – yet her impressively nuanced lead performance in Pascale Ferran’s Lady Chatterley, for which she won a Best Actress Cesar, suggests a bright future within film.

Based on DH Lawrence’s little-known second version of his once-controversial novel, Lady Chatterley offers a tender, lyrical portrait of the passionate love affair between the shy, 20something aristocrat Lady Constance (Hands) and the solitary, middle-aged gamekeeper Parkin (newcomer Jean-Louis Coulloc’h), which gradually transforms the lives of both participants.

‘I didn’t know much about the book before making the film,’ admits the tall, brunette Hands, ‘although I had heard the gossip about the sexual aspects of it. In France there had been an erotic version with Sylvia Kristel in the early 1980s, which to me wasn’t very interesting. What I didn’t realise, until I read this second version, was how deep Lawrence’s story goes into human beings – into men and women, and into love.’

She continues: ‘To me Constance is in an amazing character. She’s not a society wit and she doesn’t have lots of lovers. She a lonely, very young woman who has accepted that she is going to take care of her disabled husband Sir Clifford. She experiences a period of depression. And then she meets this man and she undergoes a rebirth. What we really wanted was for people to identify themselves with Constance and Parkin. We didn’t want them to be clichéd characters, but there had to be a sense of truth and reality to them.’

Prior to the shoot, Hands spent six weeks rehearsing with her co-star Coulloc’h and the director Ferran, with the trio paying particular attention to the half a dozen sex scenes that punctuate the story. ‘We all thought it was important to show sex differently,’ explains the actress. ‘Very often in films you have these fantasised love scenes between these beautiful Vogue models, who glisten with sweat. Or you have these trashy sex scenes, which are often violent and explicit, and have nothing to do with feelings, except perhaps revenge or domination or possession. We felt there was an empty space for a film like Lady Chatterley, where we took the time to focus on those beautiful moments of intimacy between Constance and Parkin.’

Having already completed filming Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (‘It’s just a small part, though I’m very proud to have been in it’), Hands is about to begin work on another period drama, William Friedkin’s Coco and Igor, about the relationship between the French designer Chanel and the Russian composer Stravinsky. ‘To me it’s not enough just to try and look like a character that existed,’ she says. ‘Yes the clothes and looks and attitudes are important, but it’s what she had inside her that I’m looking for. I have to capture an essence, a vibration.’

Lady Chatterley, GFT, Glasgow & Filmhouse, Edinburgh from Fri 24 Aug.

Lady Chatterley

  • 4 stars
  • 2006
  • Belgium/France/Britain
  • 2h 48min
  • 18
  • Directed by: Pascale Ferran
  • Cast: Marina Hands, Jean-Louis Coullo'ch, Hippolyte Giradot

An understated yet compelling French adaptation of Lawrence's once scandalous novel. Eschewing melodrama, the director focuses on how the sexual relationship transforms the lives of the lovers.

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