A tale of love, lust, desire and revenge. I must warn you, especially if you are very sensitive : if you dare enter this world, you better tread carefully. As soon as the first images run on the screen, you get a punch in your stomach, with painful images of beaten women and squalid London slums in all their disgusting details. The Crimson Petal and the White, is set in 1870 Victorian London but it's not Dickens, nor George Eliot and neither brave Mrs Gaskell. Based on Michel Faber's novel of the same title (2003), it is a very gripping and realistic tale, as if Dickens's London turned much more wicked, more desperate, more disturbing, definitely nightmarish, seen through the eyes of a 21st century writer.

Romola Garai as Sugar

Now sleeps the crimson petal, now the white;
Nor waves the cypress in the palace walk;
Nor winks the gold fin in the porphyry font:
The firefly wakens: waken thou with me.
(Lord Alfred Tennyson)
This series looks awesome in a literal sense: the darkness, the grime, the filth, the blackness and deep scarlets, the paleness in the faces and the desperation in those stares are, of course,  metaphorical but also visually absorbing. The set and the costumes are astounding.

William Rackham (Chris O'Dowd) and Sugar (Romola Garai)

The protagonist is a fallen woman, a very beautiful and smart prostitute. Having spent years at the mercy of men, Sugar yearns for a better life and craves the freedom to make a living using her brain rather than her body. When not at work Sugar pens a dark, gothic novel in which a prostitute enacts revenge on all the men who have wronged her - a theme that has threatened to seep into reality. Mourning the recent death of her friend Elizabeth, beaten by two punters, Sugar is determined to flee the hell that is St. Giles. With the arrival of William Rackham, this escape becomes a tangible prospect - and one that Sugar is keen to exploit. 
An egotistical perfume magnate, William has so far loathed to join his father’s business . He is a failed writer and deeply in debt. His luxurious house in Notting Hill offers modest comfort for him, especially for the strain of looking after his increasingly unstable wife, Agnes.  Learning about Sugar, William tracks her down and instantly falls under her spell.

Amanda Hale as Agnes
Agnes, William Rackhams's disturbed wife is one of the most intriguing and touching characters in this story. She confounds those around her and draws disrepute on the family with her reclusive behaviour and dramatic public outbursts. She spends her days writing her memoirs, conveying her misguided notions to the world. Fiercely religious, Agnes is convinced that she has a guardian angel, and will one day escape her caged existence to live in the ‘Convent’ that she visits in her dreams. Following deterioration in her condition, she is placed at the whims of the sinister Dr Curlew.

The doctor is one of the most disquieting figures in this dark story but another unforgettable character is his sister, widowed Mrs Fox, who dedicates her life to rescue fallen women and with her dour attitude and appearance becomes the sexual obsession of Henry Rackham, William's brother. Henry, inhibited and timid, consumes himself trying to sublimate his sexual desire in his service to the Church.  Another incredible character is Mrs Castaway, who runs the brothel where Sugar has worked and lived  all her life and fears to lose her most desired property once William Rackham asks her exclusive access to Sugar. 

Romola Garai, Chris O'Dowd, Gillian Anderson, Richard E. Grant, Shirley Henderson, Amanda Hale, Mark Gatiss and Blake Ritson star in a this bold four-part adaptation of  "The Crimson Petal And The White" by acclaimed playwright and screenwriter Lucinda Coxon and directed by award-winning Marc Munden (The Devil's Whore, The Mark Of Cain), produced by Origin Pictures for the BBC.

If you are a period drama  and Victorian history lover, you will definitely appreciate this original dark series. Romola Garai is very good in this role so dramatic and  different from her light, spirited Emma Woodhouse. I really loved this series. I can't tell you how much it differs from the book, if it respects or not the intentions of the writer, since I haven't read it. If you are curious to know what Michel Faber himself said of this adaptation read  this interview or this one.

You can pre-order the DVD HERE , buy the book HERE 
or watch a trailer HERE.


Jenny Allworthy said...

This one is very gritty but totally transfixing isn't it Maria Grazia? It would never make it on PBS because they would have to cut too much of it out for the sensitive American market!

I agree that Romola Garai was really good in this. I haven't read the book either, but there are a lot of fans of the book too.

Maria Grazia said...

@Jenny Allworthy
I've just loved watching it and I'd like to read the book. I'm interested in the metaliterature in it. It must be great with Sugar's gothic novel of revenge and Agnes's memoir. I'm really tempted to get the book, now|
Thanks, Jenny, for your comment.

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