The Crimson Petal And The White (2011)
Londres, 1870 : une jeune prostituée découvre le pouvoir et obtient un certain statut lorsqu’elle devient la maîtresse d’un puissant patriarche.
C’est une mini-série en 4 épisodes tournée pour la chaîne BBC2.
Rôle : Mrs Castaway, la tenancière d’un bordel et la mère de Sugar.
Réalisateur : Marc Munden (Vanity Fair, Miranda, Conviction, The mark of Cain, The devil’s whore, Some dogs bite, Utopia…)
Scénaristes : Lucinda Coxon et Michael Faber (d’après son livre)
Distribution : Romola Garaï (Sugar), Chris O’Dowd (William Rackham), Shirley Henderson (Emmeline Fox), Richard E Grant (Dr Curlew), Mark Gatiss (Henry Rackham Jr), Amanda Hale (Agnes Rackham), Lydia Wilson (Elizabeth), Katie Lyons (Clara), Elizabeth Berrington (Constance Bridgelow), Clare Louise Connolly (Janey), Tom Georgeson (Henry Rackham Sr), Liz White (Caroline), Blake Ritson (Bodley), Bertie Carvel (Ashwell), James Wilson (Christopher)…
"She [Anderson] was amazing," "She’s fearless and completely without vanity and that can be rare in this industry." Romola Garaï
The Crimson Petal And The White is a near-perfect love story, of sorts, told in an unrelentingly brutal, brilliant way. Unafraid of modern arty flourishes though thankfully not forgetting the importance of simple, heartwarming, yet heartbreaking, storytelling, this is cinematic period drama at its finest.
Sugar, a prostitute as happy discussing the failings of Matthew Arnold as doing the old beast with two backs, enchants and bewitches William Wrackham (played with gusto by IT Crowd’s Chris O’Dowd), the son of a perfume manufacturer, and under her subtle tutelage starts to make a name for himself. But there is more to the drama than the rags to riches story of a prostitute as the bright array of star names – X Files’ Gillian Anderson building on her star turn in Bleak House, Richard E Grant playing the abominable Dr Curlew, Sherlock’s Mark Gatiss as William’s well-meaning, if naive, brother Henry – testifies.
Liverpool Daily Post
This is period drama with a dark and adult edge, with Romola Garai and Chris O’Dowd excellent in the lead roles and Marc Munders’ direction simply sublime. Watch closely and you’ll catch several glimpses of Liverpool’s Canning Street facade as a filming venue too.
The Independent 3/5
When it appeared on screens earlier this year, the BBC’s adaptation of Michel Faber’s 2002 novel, The Crimson Petal and the White won an army of fans.
Telling the tale of star-crossed lovers Sugar, a prostitute, and William Rackham, a wealthy perfume heir, it offers a sure-fire bit of period romance, all bustiers, voluminous skirts and fire-side romance. Lurking in the back is the grimy underside of Victorian London, where sex is cheap and disease widespread. There is, it has to be said, a faint whiff of the ridiculous about it. Strong as the lead performances may be, the production struggles to shrug off the hint of ham. Still, as a hearty bit of dramatic guilty pleasure, you could stoop far lower.
Having now watched the series again on DVD, it’s good to note that it stands up well to repeated viewings. The things I had problems with the first time around – some of the special effects, the director’s (Marc Munden, also responsible for the similarly stylish, but less entertaining period drama The Devil’s Whore) love of getting extras to stare accusingly at the camera – are still problematic on repeat viewings and the pacing is still a bit of a problem (which is to be expected from adapting a nine-hundred-and-something page long novel into four hours of telly), but the many thing that the series did well the first time around still work. Additionally, as a result of being able to watch it through in one long, satisfying lump, I noticed things that I hadn’t picked up on before – such as the surprisingly subtle developments in O’Dowd’s performance from a meek and ineffectual over-grown teenager (not far removed from The IT Crowd’s Roy) to something more distant and sinister.
Episode 1 :
RadioTimes – TV Highlights
This isn’t your usual poised and primped costume drama. That much is obvious as we launch into the London of 1874 via its back streets and brothels. Woozy focus, odd angles, deep shadows – it’s designed to confuse us. “You do not know your way around,” purrs a voice over the opening titles. “You are an alien from another time and place altogether.” We don’t know it yet but this is the voice of Sugar (Romola Garai), a stylish prostitute on her way to visit a dying friend. Then suddenly we’re whisked to a well-to-do house that’s in turmoil because the mistress, Agnes, has knocked another lady’s bonnet off: it featured a bird trapped under cloth, which upset her because, as we learn, Agnes is herself a kind of trapped bird, losing her mental bearings and in fear of her doctor (Richard E Grant). But the hero is feckless would-be-writer William, husband of Agnes and son of a perfume magnate. It’s a brilliant turn from Chris O’Dowd (yes, of The IT Crowd) in what promises to be a grippingly sordid tale. Adapted from Michel Faber’s novel, it’s period drama for fans of David Lynch.
Radio Times reviewer – David Butcher
On The Box 5/5
Victorian Britain has been especially en vogue at BBC Towers of late, but rather than offering us idyllic bumblings (Lark Rise..) or austere misunderstandings (Upstairs Downstairs), The Crimson Petal and the White brings us a far juicier piece of entertainment which is as richly immersive as it is unconventional.
On TV Tonight 5/5
A darkly funny and occasionally genuinely unsettling script is played perfectly. Garai is gobsmackingly good as Sugar, the razor-sharp lady of the night who fantasises about bloodily murdering the men she sleeps with and keeps a vivid journal of revenge, while Chris O’Dowd (yes, him from The IT Crowd) is little short of brilliant as Rackham. A sweaty mass of doubt, self-deceipt and frustrated ambition, it’s a performance with telly BAFTA written through it like a stick of rock.
Throw in off-kilter supporting turns from familiar faces like Mark Gatiss, Gillian Anderson, Shirley Henderson and – don’t let this put you off, he’s eerily menacing here – Richard E Grant, and you’ve a cast refreshingly sheared of weak spots.
If it can keep this up for all four episodes, then The Crimson Petal And The White is going to be one of the shows of the year. Even if you hate period drama, give this opener go. It just might surprise you. Be warned though. As Sugar says: “If you dare enter this world, you’d better tread carefully…”
What’s On TV
Michel Faber’s epic 900-page novel set in Victorian London is brought to the small screen in this lavish four-part adaptation.
Romola Garai leads a stellar cast as renowned prostitute Sugar, whose talents are the talk of the town. Married would-be writer William Rackham (a rare straight role for The IT Crowd’s Chris O’Dowd) falls under her spell, and so begins a seductive tale of sexual politics and the city. Superb star turns from Gillian Anderson (as creepy brothel keeper Mrs Castaway), Mark Gatiss and Richard E Grant only add to the extravagant feel of this dynamic drama…
A four-part, star-studded adaptation of Michel Faber’s Victorian-set novel from 2002, with The IT Crowd’s Chris O’Dowd showing off his thespian chops in one of the lead roles. Dimly lit and unsettling, it opens with a prostitute dying after a savage beating from two clients, and moves rapidly to a sprawling house in West London where the wife of an industrialist’s son is slipping rapidly into insanity. Richard E Grant, Gillian Anderson and The League of Gentlemen’s Mark Gatiss are among the other big names who trot on and off the screen. Sugar, the prostitute with whom O’Dowd’s William Rackham gets involved, is not so much a tart with a heart as a tart with a brain (she’s a strikingly well-read auto-didact). William is a scion of a rich family cut off by his father, but is also a feeble man who calls himself a writer while selling his wife’s jewellery to pay for whores. Sex is a big part of this portrayal of Victorian London, as though it is trying to fill in the gaps Dickens was too tasteful or bound by convention to fill, and death, disease, violence and madness are never far away either. The Crimson Petal and the White is difficult to watch, at times, but compelling, beautifully shot and vividly acted. O’Dowd in particular is a revelation as the piteous William, and Romola Garai (pictured) is excellent as the quick-witted but vulnerable Sugar. TC
This lively adaptation of the much-loved Michel Faber novel starts very promisingly indeed. Romola Garai plays Sugar, a renowned Victorian prostitute whose story becomes embroiled with that of William Rackham, a wealthy businessman played with impeccable creepiness by the usually funny Chris O’Dowd. He falls for her charms, but there’s a madwoman in the attic (more a bedroom, to be literal) to deal with at home, and business to attend to. The script is zingy, the setting filthy and corpulent, and there’s plenty of mystery to be unravelled by the impressive cast, which also includes Gillian Anderson, Richard E Grant and Mark Gatiss. Rebecca Nicholson
4th Guardian Review
Chalk up another extraordinary performance for former The X Files star Gillian Anderson.
After her mesmerising Lady Dedlock in Bleak House and Wallis Simpson in Any Human Heart, she’s back in Victorian dress again, this time playing Mrs Castaway – madam of a sordid London brothel.
She doesn’t have much screen time tonight, but in every second she appears, she’s electric.
The Crimson Petal and The White is pitched perfectly for the channel: erudite, creepy and mournful. Adapted from Michel Faber’s 2002 best-selling novel, Crimson is stuffed with stylised sadness and seedy Victoriana. Gaudy emulsion, browning decoupage and women in suffocating corsetry fill up the interiors while outside it’s dank and dingy. The camera prowls like a pervert, then darts in for close ups of powder-pale faces, thread veined cheeks and lips dehydrated from too much gin.
Episode 2 :
Radio Times – TV Highlights
The tale of sinning Victorian gents and their sinned-against women continues in mesmerising form. It’s the kind of drama you could watch with the sound turned down (and the colours turned up) purely to enjoy the strange, dreamy visuals that glow off the screen. At times the plot seems almost incidental; what matter are the entrapments of the various loveless characters – and how amazing they look in their misery. Diffident toff Henry Rackham Jr (Mark Gatiss) comes more into focus in tonight’s episode. He becomes besotted with little Mrs Fox just as she’s struck with a nasty dose of costume-drama cough. So he decides to continue her work rescuing prostitutes himself, though he’s hardly what you would call a man of the world. Meanwhile, our heroine, high-class prostitute Sugar, worries that her wealthy patron William has deserted her, though she is soon back under his wing (or is he under hers?). Saddest of all is William’s wife Agnes, who is convinced that her husband’s mistress is her guardian angel – her grip on reality is growing shakier. She feels “like a lost bonnet floating along a dark river”.
Radio Times reviewer – David Butcher
On TV Tonight 5/5
Blimey, but this show looks good! Even if it wasn’t scripted with a sharp sense of leering understatement and even if you sliced out the steel-hearted performances of the likes of Romola Garai and Chris O’Dowd, you’d still be tempted to watchCrimson Petal for the look of the thing alone.The bleached, dreamlike (nightmareish?) Victorian London with its posh homes and grimy slums lulls you into complacency then slaps you in the eye with the sudden glow of unexpected colours – the flame red of Garai’s hair, the green of a dress, the glow of a red-hot poker about to do something horrible…
This series is shaping up to be a TV highlight of 2011. Will it reach the status of those landmark novel adaptations, the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice which wowed us back in 1995? Perhaps not, unless next week O’Dowd buffs up and starts emerging from ponds in a wet shirt. As a novel the source material doesn’t easily lend itself to television, with complex inner monologues and voice-of-God exposition, and the cacophonous sexual content might leave the Beeb averse to putting it out as a chocolate-box DVD giftset. But, the performances are as memorable and enduring as any definitive novel adaptation, and the sonorous direction, cinematography and costuming could spur The Crimson Petal And The White to the rank of a modern classic.
It’s a much more sombre episode than the first, akin to a lover’s tiff that precedes a bout of satisfying sexual acts. While we learn more about our characters, the devilishly bleak tone may well leave you hollow with sorrow and aching for some fun.
Metro – Pick of the Day
This is a series with the money to lavish on spectacular sets and the confidence to flash the odd phallus in our direction, as part of its assured and credible portrayal of underhand Victorian goings-on.
With just two episodes left of the series, viewers should savour every HHH, because television this beautifully executed don’t come along very often.
Guardian – TV Highlights
Sugar is ensconced as William Rackham’s private prostitute but the grime and filth of the brothel, and the sinister ways of Gillian Anderson’s brilliantly wicked Mrs Castaway, soon mean she wants more than his exclusive patronage. Meanwhile, we meet William’s brother Henry (Mark Gatiss), adding yet another odd relationship to the mix with sickly widow Mrs Fox (Shirley Henderson).Rebecca Nicholson
What’s On TV
The second instalment of Michel Faber’s tale of Victorian London sees Sugar (Romola Garai) deepen her hold over William (Chris O’Dowd), who moves his mistress into a house in Marylebone.
And it seems that she is also smitten by her benefactor, so much so that Sugar has all but given up writing her revenge fantasies, which so amused her pal Caroline (Life on Mars’ Liz White). As Sugar embraces her respectability, Henry (Mark Gatiss) is burning with forbidden passion for ailing Mrs Fox (Shirley Henderson) as the drama turns up the heat.
This Victorian take on Pretty Woman continues to cast its woozily hypnotic spell in week two.
And during Gillian Anderson’s all-too brief scenes tonight, just imagine for a moment that she could somehow be persuaded to join EastEnders.
Mrs Castaway as the new landlady of the Queen Vic? How wonderful would that be? This week there are some casual revelations about both our heroine Sugar (Romola Garai) and her patron William Rackham (Chris O’Dowd) that alter our whole perspective on this pair as though we’ve been looking at their lives through the wrong end of a telescope.
William’s sickly wife Agnes has now become convinced that Sugar is her guardian angel – a role that Sugar fully intends to live up to this week. And William’s less worldly brother Henry (Mark Gatiss) also commands our attention as he embarks on a plan to rescue some fallen women.
But it’s Henry himself who has fallen – he’s now slap bang in love with the doctor’s pocket-sized sister Mrs Fox (Shirley Henderson).
Their doomed passion results in a scene so unforgettable that it almost imprints itself on the back of your eyelids. See you at the BAFTAs.
The plot sort of barreled ahead this week without really giving us time to really understand the characters, save for Sugar. We learn that Agnes became ill after having a child, a daughter who is brought up by her nurse and who William cares so little for that he begrudges the thought of spending money on a governess. And Henry realises the depths of his feelings for Mrs Fox too late, becoming distraught when he learns she is dying from consumption.
- BBC 2 (Royaume-Uni): Avril 2011
- UKTV (Australie) : Septembre 2011
- ENCORE (Etats-Unis) : Mars 2012
Audiences : une moyenne de 2, 5 millions de téléspectateurs.
3 ROYAL TELEVISION SOCIETY AWARDS : best production design, costume design and best make up in the drama category.
1 BAFTA TV CRAFT : Make Up & Hair Design – Jacqueline Fowler