TELEVISION / Horse play: Giles Smith with the naked truth about Lady Chatterley

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
It's a tale of passion known across the nation: the married lady from the top drawer - the man in her employ who feasts his eyes on her flesh, her quivering responsiveness. But more about Baroness Thatcher and Alan Clark MP later. On Sunday on BBC 2, the former government minister daringly declared of his former PM, 'She had very pretty ankles and little feet and pretty wrists.' But simultaneously on BBC 1, Joely Richardson, playing Lady Chatterley, was going further, actually exposing her own ankles and wrists again and again - always tastefully, though, and only ever to advance the plot.

Ken Russell's serialisation of Lady Chatterley's Lover - slow, sonorous, over-serious - illustrated once more how D H Lawrence is short on jokes to the degree that Jane Austen is short on nude scenes. Still, Russell bravely pitched himself into the cast, as Lady Chatterley's father, and one of his moments did set an interesting new spin on the book's class theme. We saw Russell, wedged behind the wheel of a natty little sports car, wearing a brown car-coat. It seemed to suggest that her Ladyship's lineage, though less aristocratic than her husband Sir Clifford's, did at some point intersect with that of Toad of Toad Hall.

Otherwise, this was the usual rustic tosh. It's inevitable in any D H Lawrence adaptation that, at some point, one or more of the characters is going to start rubbing themselves thoughtfully against a tree. Here it was Joely Richardson, playing Connie as a Lady who was definitely for turning. One minute she was sane: next minute, she was, literally, barking, caressing the moss as Russell's camera moved slowly up over her head into the tree's tall shaft. Get the point?

Actually, Russell seemed to be keeping himself on a fairly tight leash here. Which is to say there was only one dream-sequence involving horses and / or leather goods. In what could well have been an ill-advised ad- agency pitch for the Lloyds Bank account, Connie rode a black stallion the size of a two-car garage down a passage lined by crop-headed young men whose bare torsos were festooned with roses. (Was that Morrissey, second from left?) Eventually she reached a river where Clifford, holding out a hand to her, was drowning in a pool of bubbles. The horse reared and we saw Mellors the gamekeeper, looking pumped up and ready for action, on the opposite bank. It's just a hunch, but there might have been some sort of sexual undertone here. Could it be that Connie is going to abandon Clifford (symbolised by his drowning) to have sex (symbolised by the stallion) with Mellors (symbolised by, er, Mellors)? We'll just have to wait and see.

When we left it, Connie had yet to find the key to Mellors' heart but, by way of compensation, was demanding the key to his hut. In the words of Socrates which Clifford read to Connie early on, the black horse of desire is in a sprint with the white horse of the spirit. But coming up fast on the rails, and somehow threatening to leave them both for dead, is the grey nag of the television adaptation.

The most revealing piece of footage in Love Tory (terrible title), Michael Cockerell's portrait of Alan Clark, showed Margaret Thatcher standing during Prime Minister's Question Time while Clark, seated behind her, leaned over to run an appraising look up the rear of her legs. Most of us were glad to see the back of Mrs Thatcher in a quite different sense, but Clark was never one for the general consensus. An aristocrat living in a family pile, he invited a girlfriend along to his honeymoon and told his wife she should be 'more French' in her tolerance of his affairs. (His wife Jane's appearances here - maintaining that Clark was 'absolutely dreadful' but laughing as she did so - suggested an imminent sainthood.) Cockerell's programme had the choice between two lines on Clark - ghastly throwback, or one helluva chap - and opted consistently for the latter. Clark's line on Thatcher, meanwhile, was that she was 'always very nice to me'. Which is, incidentally, what Eva Braun said about Hitler.