Netflix has breathed new life into D.H. Lawrence’s controversial 1928 novel, Lady Chatterley’s Lover. The cinematic adaptation sees Emma Corrin and Jack O’Connell in leading roles, and is directed by Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre. Previously, she garnered rave reviews for The Mustang (2019).
When D.H. Lawrence first wrote it, he perhaps would not have imagined that his saga of a woman’s affair with her husband’s gamekeeper would be streamed on millions of screens worldwide. Due to its controversial subject matter, Lawrence first published a limited version in Florence and Paris. It wasn’t until 1959 that the Penguin Books published the complete text in New York City and London. But even then, the world wasn’t ready for the book’s explicit sexual descriptions and the idea of an upper class woman falling in love with a working class man. Many took issue with the book’s language, which was considered taboo for the time. After a gruelling six-day trial over its British publication, the jury found the novel to be ‘not obscene’. Their judgement is still considered a landmark in the battle of the written word against censorship.
Sixty-three years later, audiences around the world are watching Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Further, this film about a woman’s desire to find love and sexual pleasure outside her marriage also happens to have a woman as its director. As for the story itself, it seems to have stood the test of time. Lawrence’s once radical idea that a woman can seek love, sex and companionship outside her socioeconomic class too, is resonating with viewers even today.
Banned novels have often made it to the big and small screen, and received rave reviews for their retellings. Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale has had to fight against several bans since its publication in 1985. It faced so much backlash, that Atwood and Penguin created a copy that is “unburnable”. It sold for $130,000, and all proceeds went to PEN America, an organisation that advocates for free expression in literature. Today, it enjoys worldwide viewership and critical acclaim as a series spanning five seasons. Several other controversial novels such as The Great Gatsby, The Color Purple and 1984, which many consider seminal works of literature, have gone on to meet with great success on the big and small screen.
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The controversies that plagued novels like Lady Chatterley’s Lover do not hold as much relevance today. But the root issue of censorship, both in literature and film, is one that still prevails. As recently as 2020, officials in Katy, Texas banned Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give, which revolves around race and police brutality, from schools. South Carolina police too took a stand against the novel, claiming it promoted anti-police sentiments. The book got a film adaptation of its own in 2018, and received acclaim for its performances. Film, as a medium, has proved powerful in bringing stories and messages to the masses. Moreover, with the rise of OTT platforms, there is greater scope to tell stories that might otherwise face censorship. This is something that directors and writers seem to be keeping in mind while creating content for varied audiences.