Monday, November 20, 2006

Fingersmith 2005: Victorian potboiler a triumph for the BBC (REVIEW)


This weekend I was most impressed with Fingersmith, the 2005 BBC adaptation of Sarah Waters's Victorian drama directed by Aisling Walsh and adapted by Peter Ransley. I didn't see it on the BBC when it first aired so I hired the DVD this weekend. Sally Hawkins and Elaine Cassidy put in excellent performances as Sue Trinder and Maud Lilly respectively, the heroines who fall in love and soon discover that their past, present and future is inextricably linked. Rupert Evans was also a real gem in this production as the charming, chilling and cruel Richard 'Gentleman' Rivers and Charles Dance as Maud's sinister uncle Mr Lilly was good value, as always. Imelda Staunton hammed it up as emotionally over-wrought trickster Mrs Sucksby.

This adaptation benefited from having a truly gripping yarn to tell. There was no slack here; no flabby narrative which could have been trimmed. This was very well-honed throughout. At one point, the narrative is re-told, but from a different character perspective, casting an alternative light on plot proceedings. This was orchestrated well and also proved to be a genuine twisty surprise. It helped in this regard, I guess, that I had never read Fingersmith as a novel - a situation I will be amending, asap.

Locations, sets and costumes - all were serviceable. I particularly enjoyed the compelling scenes set in London. Waters's rendition of London has a strongly Dickensian flavour. This is a city where human misery was plentiful and moral corruption was rife. Waters is meticulous in her historical research, which certainly helps to embellish the plot. Here, the public ceremony and commensurate voracious public interest attached to hanging is highlighted, as is the misogynistic practice of locking away unwanted wives in mental asylums.

The lesbian love-scenes between the two leads attracted a lot of media attention when first aired; much of it lewd and unnecessary. The chemistry between Cassidy and Hawkins is tangible and touching - there is a very real sense that they fall in love, a far cry from some of the more tawdry media comments and reviews at the time. Both are very fine actresses, and I now look forward to seeing Hawkins play Anne Elliott in next year's Persuasion.

Hawkins also starred in Waters's Tipping the Velvet, another BBC adaptation adapted by Andrew Davies in 2002, alongside Rachael Stirling and Keeley Hawes. This drama was also remembered primarily it seemed for its lesbian content, but was another fine BBC period adaptation. However, in terms of plot suspense and gripping narrative, I consider Fingersmith the superior production.

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