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.
If the slowly lengthening nights and cooling winds have you longing for the perfect title to take with you under the covers, check out any one of these lush, engrossing novels.
In Amanda Coplin’s dense debut novel The Orchardist, an orchard farmer called Talmadge has been tending the same grove of fruit trees in the foothills of the Cascades for half a century. His life is changed forever by the appearance of two young sisters and the violent men who trail them. This turn-of-the-century America is as wild as it can be: a nation where solitude is genuine and there truly are places that the law just doesn’t reach.
The Crimson Petal and the White offers a lurid, intoxicating look at the oft-visited streetwalkers, orphans, and gentle ladies of Victorian England. From the high to the low, the people who make up this fabled society are brought together through the dreams of a surprisingly well-read young prostitute named Sugar. Author Michael Faber invokes the gas-lit ambiance of that era but tinges his narrative with an irresistible modernity that makes this novel unique.
Margaret Atwood is my favorite author. You probably know her for her famous dystopian masterpiece The Handmaid’s Tale, but forget all about that and read The Blind Assassin instead. In this Booker Prize winner, Atwood traces the history of two sisters: Laura Chase, a novelist who dies mysteriously in her twenties, and Iris Chase, who recounts their story as an octegenarian. There is a novel within this novel, written by Laura; within Laura’s novel, there’s a novel within a novel within a novel: a science fiction tale called “The Blind Assassin” as told to Laura by her lover. It sounds impossibly convoluted, but it just works - Atwood’s genius isn’t just plotting, but stunning language: years later, sentences from this gorgeous book will still be rattling around in your brain. It’s unforgettable.