TV Review: The Crimson Petal and the White

A strong cast can’t persuade me about literary adaptation The Crimson Petal and the White

“Here, people go to sleep as soon as the gin takes effect”

This TV adaptation of Michael Faber’s 2002 novel dates back to 2011 but despite having the kind of cast that normally attracts me like a moth to a flame, I never quite got round to watching The Crimson Petal and the White. And in all honesty, I should have stuck with my initial sixth sense…

Set in the seedy underbelly of Victorian London, the story follows Romola Garai’s courtesan Sugar and the relationship she develops with feckless perfume heir William Rackham, a persuasive Chris O’Dowd. From a flop of a first night, he soon becomes entirely infatuated with her, not letting the fact that he has a mentally ill wife get in the way.

The first episode starts off promisingly, Marc Munden’s direction verging on the hallucinogenic as we’re spared little of the grim realities of Sugar’s life as a prostitute and aspiring novelist. But as William buys her exclusivity, puts her in a flat and then eventually employs her in his household as governess to his daughter, it becomes gradually less interesting.

There’s not much to speak of in terms of depth of character or any real sense of progression and consequently I found it curiously unengaging. There’s vivid cameos from the likes of Gillian Anderson, Liz White, Elizabeth Berrington and Wendy Nottingham, but these just prove flickers in an otherwise dull experience.

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