Based on a novel by Michel Faber, which I haven’t read, I was intrigued by the title and I always enjoy watching a British cast. They just sound so much smarter than us. Romola Garai (Atonement, Emma) stars as the young prostitute intent on leaving behind her sad beginnings. Her name is Sugar, and Chris O’Dowd (whom we know from Bridesmaids and The IT Crowd) becomes obsessed with owning her. He takes on his father’s successful soap and scents business so that he may take care of his mentally disturbed wife as well as his mistress. Rounding out the cast are Gillian Anderson as the madam/mother from hell and Richard E. Grant as the doctor who can’t keep his hands off the patients.
As much as I’m fascinated by the Victorian Era, I’m glad to live in 2012. The production leads us into a world of utter filth and Dickensian poverty where people struggled (often unsuccessfully) to survive. Against that background, we are shown the upper middle class enjoying a pleasant existence and caring nothing for the less fortunate—although the “good” doctor’s sister, played by Shirley Henderson, does try to rescue prostitutes from the depths of their evil souls. She really should have started with her brother.
There are some graphic sex scenes with nudity sprinkled in. Romola Garai’s haunting face and Chris O’Dowd, as the guilt-ridden husband, make a couple you will want to shake for their selfishness—yet we must understand that they were prisoners of their time.
While this wouldn’t make my A-list, if you enjoy Victorian novels as I do, this production of The Crimson Petal and the White is worth your viewing.
Available on DVD September 28 at Acorn Media.