BBC Radio 7, 23-30 October 2010
First broadcast in 2006, this classic serial adaptation did not pull any punches as far as language was concerned: in a prefatory talk, the broadcaster Clive Anderson warned listeners to expect the sexual act to be described in the most basic terms (or, as the BBC rather coyly puts it, in "very strong language.")
But this issue proved peripheral in Marilyn Imrie's production, which was far more concerned with the relationship between the mundane world of the Chatterley household, and the hitherto suppressed inner yearnings of the three protagonists. On several occasions the Chatterleys (Roger Allam, Lia Williams) and Mellers (Robert Glenister) spoke directly to listeners in a series of antiphonal dialogues reminiscent of the Greek chorus. Each dialogue comprised a series of short phrases in stream-of-consciousness style, as if the protagonists were expressing precisely what came to their mind at any particular moment. This deliberately stylized dialogue contrasted starkly with the polished conversation of the Chatterleys and their circle of (mostly aristocratic) friends, including Duncan Forbes (Julian Rhind-Tutt), who delighted in entertaining his audiences with a series of Wildean epigrams.
This strategy helped to explain why Lady Chatterley embarked so readily on her love-affair as a way of escaping from the stifling world of bourgeois conformity, which forced people to suppress their emotions. Clifford Chatterley would have been more than willing to pursue the same course of action, but his injuries prevented him from doing so. Imrie underlined the contrast between the two worlds through musical themes: the bourgeois world of conformity was introduced with a sentimental Edwardian popular song ("Roses of Picardy"), while the world of unrestrained emotion was associated with a primeval melody reminiscent of musique concrete.
In the end both Lady Chatterley and Mellers discovered that a true act of love, whether sexual or emotional, did not need words to express it. Their dialogue became increasingly fragmented, almost ritualistic in tone, and dissolved into a series of short breaths, each punctuated by the phrase "I love you." Those three words, which might seem so cliched in other contexts, assumed a new depth of meaning; the word "love" signified a deep and lasting union.
Ever the famous trial of 1960 (immortalized in Larkin's famous lines, describing the so-called 'Swinging Sixties' and how they were associated with some kind of liberation - "Between the trial of Lady Chatterley/ And the Beatles' first LP"), Lady Chatterley's Lover has always had a risque reputation. Other adaptations have done little to change this idea: Ken Russell's 1990s television was memorable mostly for its sex scenes. What made Imrie's version so compelling was the way in which it underlined the innocence lurking at the heart of the novel: Mellers and Lady Chatterley discover an edenic world in which nothing else matters but themselves and their love. Would that Lady Chatterley's so-called 'sophisticated' friends had understood this. At the end it seemed somehow fitting that the two lovers should stay together, despite the social risks involved.