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Popcorn & Prejudice: A Movie Blog

Seattle Times writer Moira Macdonald muses on moviegoing. Email Moira: mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

October 8, 2012 at 12:47 PM

‘The Crimson Petal and the White’

Discovered the other day, among Encore’s free on-demand offerings (free if you have Comcast with Encore, that is), the British miniseries version of “The Crimson Petal and the White,” based on Michel Faber’s crackling-good 2002 novel set in Victorian England. I remember, not long after the book came out, that Curtis Hanson (then fresh off “8mm” and “Wonder Boys”) was announced to direct the feature-film version, with Kirsten Dunst playing Sugar, the wise 19-year-old prostitute at its center. Not sure whatever happened to that project — probably the book was a little too raunchy for Hollywood, though I suspect “50 Shades of Grey” is far more X-rated — but Hanson and Dunst eventually went off to other things, and the book was finally filmed as a four-hour miniseries shown on the BBC last year. Now it’s available on demand and DVD (and likely Netflix), and well worth a look, particularly if you enjoyed the book. Romola Garai, though a tad too old for the role, is wonderfully self-possessed (and uncannily lovely) as Sugar; Chris O’Dowd makes you forget “Bridesmaids” as the married man who yearns to possess her; Amanda Hale is heartbreakingly fragile as his doll-like, haunted young wife; and a nearly unrecognizable Gillian Anderson growls marvelously as a seen-it-all madam. The camerawork, with its Victorian candlelight and glowing red velvets, looks gorgeous in HD; the musical score may be too contemporary for some tastes, but for me it works as a reflection of the book’s very modern narration. This “Crimson Petal” isn’t meant to be a pretty period drama, but more of an addled fever dream. I’ve only watched the first two hours, but can’t wait to finish. (Faber himself says he likes it very much, in an article that talks a bit about what it’s like to be the author of a book headed to the screen.)

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