Romola Garai in "The Crimson Petal and the White"; photo courtesy
“The Crimson Petal and the White”
This month Encore presents the US television premiere
of “The Crimson Petal and the White”, a mini-series from Britain which stars Romola Garai and Chris O’Dowd. This
tragic tale of a gentleman and a prostitute echoes with Dickensian tones but is much more graphically presented
than Dickens ever considered doing. Based on the novel by Michael Faber “The Crimson Petal and the White” shines
through with beautiful performances and high level drama.
Sugar (Garai) is a prostitute in the establishment
run by Mrs. Castaway (Gillian Anderson). One of the more frequent visitors to this house is William Rackman
(O’Dowd), a wealthy gentleman who is beset by family problems. When William meets Sugar he is instantly mesmerized
by her and wants her to be exclusively his. This results in his renting a house for her so she can be available to
him whenever he wishes.
At home William must deal with his demanding father
and also with his mentally fragile wife, Agnes (Amanda Hale). Agnes has good days and bad. Just when she seems to
be getting better she is seen by Dr. Curlew Richard E. Grant), and immediately gets worse. Dr. Curlew thinks she
should be institutionalized but William is fighting this.
The story emphasizes the good and the bad in all of
its characters. Sugar is a prostitute but to some people she is their savior. William is a man of means but he is
also tied to the strict limits of behavior society places on him. While he is a good man, he can at times be cruel
The acting by Garai and O’Dowd is amazing. They don’t
just act their characters, they inhabit them. Because they are not well known by American audiences they are more
easily accepted in their roles. After this show their fame should increase by leaps and bounds.
The supporting cast is also staggeringly good. Hale
has Agnes’ nervous and sometimes deranged actions down to perfection. Agnes is a soul adrift but Hale always lets
the hope shine through. In a much briefer role Gillian Anderson makes an impression as the cold and calculating
The storyline transports the audience back to the
1800’s and reminds it of the deep divisions between the wealthy and the poor. Dickens showed these class
differences clearly as did the Austens. Faber becomes one of this group of authors who perfectly capture these
times and characters.
There is much to like in this presentation of “The
Crimson Petal and the White.” Shown over two nights it has the chance to present its story fully and with detail.
This helps the audience appreciate the bold strokes of the script as well as the nuances of the
Search out Encore and watch “The Crimson Petal and
the White” on Monday September 10 and Tuesday September 11 at 8PM. You will not be disappointed.