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The Crimson Petal and the White - The Ex-Communicator

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April 24th, 2011


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09:59 am - The Crimson Petal and the White
One of the few TV shows I am watching at the moment is the TV dramatisation of Michel Faber's big historical novel The Crimson Petal and the White with Romola Garai as Sugar, a young Victorian prostitute who becomes the mistress of a rather drippy industrialist played by Chris O'Dowd (from the IT Crowd). The series also stars Richard E Grant, Gillian Anderson, Mark Gatiss and Shirley Henderson.

Faber wrote an article in the Guardian about the adaptation, saying that he felt it really captured the spirit of the book. I agree.

The story takes many of the features of a conventional Victorian novel, such as the mad wife and the unloved child, and portrays them in a harshly critical light. Like Mad Men it criticises the invisible privilege and complacency of the powerful. Chris O'Dowd is very good - comedians often are when they turn to straight acting for some reason - his character is weak and selfish, but he can't see that, because his whole world is assembled to privilege his class. The perfect Victorian home he has created is a dungeon of horror, but nobody can see it or talk about it. I think perhaps the horror is more explicit in this TV version than it was diluted in an immense novel. It's not that he is evil in himself - he's just ordinary - but the huge inequalities of power in society generate evil from normality.

(11 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


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From:tehomet
Date:April 24th, 2011 09:14 am (UTC)
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I have been meaning to watch TCPATW, so this review might be the spur that gets me to actually do so. :D

Also, I love this: the huge inequalities of power in society generate evil from normality. That's the problem of privilege encapsulated, isn't it?
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From:gair
Date:April 24th, 2011 02:07 pm (UTC)
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Yes, I was meaning to comment on that line!
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From:communicator
Date:April 25th, 2011 09:07 am (UTC)
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I thought the dramatisation brought this theme out more strongly - pared down to essentials

Edited at 2011-04-25 09:07 am (UTC)
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From:happytune
Date:April 24th, 2011 09:31 am (UTC)
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Yes, I've been pleasantly surprised by the quality of the adaptation. I'm glad the Beeb did it - I'm not sure many other producers of TV would have managed the level of integrity they've applied. Also agree that O'Dowd is particularly good, but I think the whole ensemble have done credit to the characterisation in the novel. Perhaps the richness/depth of the book helped them to do so?
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From:communicator
Date:April 25th, 2011 09:08 am (UTC)
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Yes, a sympathetic reading of a complex novel
From:abigail_n
Date:April 24th, 2011 10:25 am (UTC)
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I've also been enjoying the mini, though I think its faithfulness highlights some of the weaknesses in the novel. Plot elements that were just this side of tolerable on the page - Henry's fate, Sugar's "rescue" of Agnes - become completely ridiculous on screen. I'm also intrigued by the fact that though the book highlights the contrast between William and Sugar and Henry and Mrs. Fox - one couple gives itself up to licentiousness while the other suppresses even the acknowledgment of their desire for one another - the adaptation sidelines the second couple and does a lot more with the contrast between Sugar and Agnes. Amanda Hale is fantastic as Agnes so I can't complain, but I think the book, by giving more space to Henry and Mrs. Fox, had a more rounded view on sex and the Victorian attitude towards it.
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From:communicator
Date:April 25th, 2011 09:11 am (UTC)
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Amanda Hale is very good. I didn't know her before, which is why I didn't mention her. But she's heartbreaking. I quite like the outrageous plot nonsense, but you are right that the absurdity is harder to gloss over when it's right there in your eyes. To be honest I can't remember how Agnes' journey is resolved in the book.
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From:splodgenoodles
Date:April 24th, 2011 12:03 pm (UTC)
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Have not seen the show - but totally with you in your observation about comedians doing so well when they turn to straight acting.
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From:communicator
Date:April 26th, 2011 10:05 am (UTC)
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There must, presumably, be some upper limit to how well they can do, but I've seen them in Shakespeare so the sky's the limit.
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From:iainjcoleman
Date:April 24th, 2011 04:38 pm (UTC)
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comedians often are when they turn to straight acting for some reason

The reason, I believe, is that comic acting is really fucking hard.
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From:communicator
Date:April 26th, 2011 10:07 am (UTC)
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I was watching Carry On Don't Lose Your Head yesterday, and in that case the comic acting was really fucking awful, but that may be a boundary case (see also: On The Buses).

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