I will say it right now: Romola Garai is the next Judi Dench. She was clever and charming in the BBC’s Emma, tragic in Atonement and lovely in I Capture the Castle, but it is her starring roll as Sugar in the BBC’s 4-part adaptation of Michael Faber‘s novel, The Crimson Petal and the White, that has devoted me to her as a fan for life. She is absolutely breathtaking and MESMERIZING as a shrewd Victorian prostitute who writes revenge slasher fiction featuring her “patrons” to amuse her friends and as a dream of a future life as a published author.

However, Sugar’s plan changes when a suppressed aristocrat seeks out her services after being cut-off from his wealthy father and repeatedly pushed away from his mentally ill wife. She quickly creates a mutually beneficial relationship with William Rackham, played by Chris O’Dowd (of IT Crowd, Bridesmaids, HBO’s Girls), and soon finds herself the invisible force behind his personal and financial successes. Eventually, Sugar finds herself entwined with the women of the Rackham family and her control over William’s affections begins to slip away.

Now for the warnings: This series features nudity and explicit content which, I’ll admit, took me off guard at first, yet felt very appropriate to the era and environment. What I really want to warn viewers about is how this miniseries made me feel. The depiction of the historical treatment of women mentally, socially, and sexually left me in very dark moods after each episode. The storylines following Mrs. Rackham and her illness were particularly difficult to watch. However, Sugar’s overall strength of spirit left me aggressively hopeful as the final scene faded into light.

I highly recommend The Crimson Petal and the White to adult fans of period films and miniseries and to those who enjoy dramas targeting the female experience in relationships such as HBO’s Girls.