Lady Chatterley’s Lover

9pm, BBC One

It has been decades since I read Lady Chatterley’s Lover and, like most people, that was largely confined to a quick scan of the pages that mysteriously fell open in the well-thumbed, if rarely checked-out copy in the local library.

As a result, I can’t be 100% certain whether the most striking moment in the BBC’s 100% pointless new film is taken from DH Lawrence, or is an invention of the adaptor, Jed Mercurio. I suspect the latter, though, and, if so, he’s to be applauded for dropping a great steaming pile of comedy into an otherwise unbearably earnest 90 minutes, even if he didn’t realise he was doing it.

The scene concerns Sir Clifford Chatterley’s attempts to get some artificial insemination action going with his young wife, Lady. For those coming late to the party, Lawrence’s novel is set in the 1920s, between the old Hovis adverts and Downton Abbey Series Four. After being wounded fighting in the trenches of the last episode of Blackadder, Sir Cliff is paralysed from the waist down, yet remains determined to squeeze out an heir.

Lawrence, I dimly recall, did include a conversation in which Sir Cliff mused on scientific advances and the possibility of doctors “transferring seed”. But it is left to Mercurio to delicately tease out the ramifications. To this end, he has crafted a sequence in which Sir Cliff employs a pioneering quack to apply some electric suction doohickey to his end, and thus attempt to milk out a little lordling.

While the gizmo buzzes his nethers, Sir Cliff sits naked save for a decorous napkin, wailing. Fretting by his side, his faithful nurse, Bolton, dabs at his forehead, blind to the fact that this is precisely the area of his body currently least in need of a dabbing. (In Lawrence, by the way, Bolton, who attends to Sir Cliff’s most intimate needs, is a miner’s widow of 47; in Mercurio’s vision, she’s a village hottie around 22.)

This panorama is already hilarious, but what pushes it into hysteria is when Mercurio cuts to Lady, anxiously waiting in another room. For one thing, it’s funny the way Sir Cliff keeps screaming constantly in the background, like an extra in a Monty Python torture sketch: “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaaAAAArgh-gh-gh-gh!!!!!!”

Really, though, it’s the two lines of dialogue that come during the sequence that make it; gems Lawrence would have eaten his own beard to write. First, when the butler gravely reminds Lady, “In the event of fluid, Your Ladyship will be required immediately.” Then, when, right after this, a maid appears and says, “Beggin’ your pardon, m’lady, but you’ve not eaten yet.”

This amazingness aside, there’s not much happening. Famously, Lawrence’s main thrusting concerns Lady’s taboo-busting affair with her lowly gamekeeper, Mr Chippendale Topless Open-Air DIY 1922. But given that, in the roles, Holliday Grainger and Richard Madden generate the chemistry of an MFI dining table, this aspect is less interesting than was perhaps intended.

Otherwise, there comes stuff about the unfairness of the British class system, which, if I’m parsing Mercurio’s subtle speeches correctly, is a bad thing. Come back, mad Ken Russell, we need you. Meanwhile, if you’re watching on iPlayer and just want to skip to the parts that mysteriously fall open, it’s 40 minutes, 48 minutes and 56 minutes. But look out for that last one, in which the gamekeeper utters this shocking line: “You have the nicest behind.” No wonder this book was banned.