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The Crimson Petal and the White 1

April 6th, 2011 (10:06 pm)

I have absolutely no acquaintance with Michel Faber's book, but the BBC co-produced adaptation of The Crimson Petal and the White looks very promising. I didn't pick up at all on the parallel between Sugar and Agnes, that both are writing - one a quasi-autobiographical novel, the other a fragmented and self-denying memoir - until I visited the BBC's programme website (which shows evidence of cutbacks by being more anaemic than sites for series of this profile used to be); but there are several character details being held back for later episodes, Lucinda Coxon's script concentrating for the moment on William Rackham's trajectory and how his acquaintance with Sugar and belief that he can be effectually sexually dominant over her make him into a confident part of his father's business machine and potentially (at Sugar's instigation) its regulator. It's a mark, perhaps, of the cynicism of the turn of the twenty-first century that William's socialism is dismissed as the pose of an ineffective coward. The production paints a picture of Victorian sexual conduct which is now the received one, but if so it's a stylised hyperconventionality, the characters all inhabiting different corners of a shared Hell. Strong performances from the cast, especially Chris O'Dowd, Romola Garai and Amanda Hale; Gillian Anderson seemed a little too music hall at times but perhaps that's appropriate for a madam of a crumbling brothel with high class pretensions. Richard E Grant's predatory doctor, a specialist in hysteria, sublimated sinister; arch affectation has its place and Grant deployed his well-exploited line carefully. More Mark Gatiss and Shirley Henderson next week, perhaps.


Posted by: serriadh (serriadh)
Posted at: April 7th, 2011 08:46 am (UTC)

I very much enjoyed the parallel between Agnes and Sugar - particularly effectively illustrated in their costuming, I thought. Both with washed-out, trapped faces, but Sugar with her auburn hair and black/dark clothing, and Agnes with her pale blonde and (virginal) white.

Richard E. Grant was mainly playing Richard E. Grant, I thought, but doing so very well, and in the right part. Sinister arch sneering was what was required!

I hope for more Gatiss, as well. Gatiss among the (female) prostitutes was particularly well-done (it could easily have descended to panto).

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 7th, 2011 12:20 pm (UTC)

Sugar's face is striking in particular - one expects Agnes's face to be pale from generic expectation, but Sugar's makes no concessions to the 'tart with a heart' William takes her for.

Gatiss among the prostitutes was the antithesis of the introduction of Gladstone's rescue missions in Lillie, which (as I remember - I watched it on video several years ago) doesn't struggle very hard to be taken seriously.

Posted by: serriadh (serriadh)
Posted at: April 7th, 2011 12:34 pm (UTC)

I think the character (I haven't read the book) is mean to suffer from some form of excema or psoriasis, which would fit in well with the cracked lips and rough skin. I was also pleased that it was quite clear that Sugar sees sex with William as a rather grim business transaction. None of this 'she secretly quite enjoys it'.

Not having read the book, I wasn't quite sure how cynically they were going to do the reformer-visiting-fallen-woman idea (and it might still go in that direction). I can't help but see that whole situation as a variant on the Daily Mail style of LOOK AT THESE DISGUSTING PICTURES THAT ARE TOO APPALLING TO CONSIDER! Look at them across 3 double-page spreads! (Which I'm sure does a disservice to many of the reformers)

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 7th, 2011 01:18 pm (UTC)

I wasn't sure what to make of the skin condition. I appreciated the care the adaptation took to make it clear that Sugar's enjoyment of sex with William was a performance, while letting us appreciate that performance and also see it through William's eyes.

William's friends who tell him about Sugar are meant to be involved in reform work, so there is already a heavy dose of cynicism in the mix. We will have to see how Henry fares as a disciple of Mrs Fox.

Posted by: lagukant (lagukant)
Posted at: April 8th, 2011 10:39 pm (UTC)