The Crimson Petal and The White


The Crimson Petal and The White

Written by Lucinda Coxon

Based on the novel by Michel Faber

Production Design: Grant Montgomery

Art Direction: Nicole Northridge

Costumes: Annie Symons

Cinematography: Lol Crawley

Music: Cristobal Tapia de Veer

Editing: Luke Dunkley

Produced by Greg Dummett, Steve Lightfoot & David M. Thompson

Directed by Marc Munden

First aired on BBC, 2011



Romola Garai

Chris O’Dowd

Amanda Hale

Gillian Anderson

Shirley Henderson

Katie Lyons

Eleanor Yates

Mark Gatiss

Elizabeth Berrington

Richard E. Grant

Isla Watt


Production Studio:

Television: Origin Pictures & Cité-Amèrique

Video: Acorn Media



Aspect ratio: 1.78:1

Resolution: 480i

Disc Size: DVD-9 x 2

Bit Rate: Moderate~High (7.5 Mbps)

Runtime: 244 minutes

Region: A


Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0


Subtitles: English SDH



• Deleted scenes

• Interviews with Romola Garai and Chris O’Dowd, director Marc Munden, and crew

• Character biographies



Standard DVD clamshell case: DVD x 2

Street Date: September 25, 2012


Product Description (Acorn Media) 

Sugar (Romola Garai, Atonement) is a notorious prostitute who longs for a better life. Sexually adept and clever, she casts a spell on William Rackham (Chris O’Dowd, Bridesmaids), heir to a perfume business. Based on the sensational novel by Michel Faber, made for the BBC, this psychological thriller boasts a stellar cast (Gillian Anderson, Richard E. Grant) and a boldly original look and feel, portraying 19th-century London as a place of violence and madness. Seen on Encore. 4 episodes, 4 hrs, 2 DVDs, SDH. Mature audiences.




William Rackham (Chris O’Dowd) is a failure as a writer, deeply in debt, and husband to an increasingly unstable wife. When his father cuts off his allowance, William seeks solace with a prostitute, Sugar (Romola Garai), and discovers that she’s as skilled at conversation as she is at sex. For her own part, Sugar sees William as a way out of Mrs. Castaway’s brothel. William wants Sugar all to himself and moves her into an apartment. Now involved in his father’s business, he regularly gives her money. A chance meeting at the opera convinces William’s disturbed wife, Agnes (Amanda Hale), that Sugar is her guardian angel. Too busy to visit Sugar’s flat, William moves her into his home as live-in mistress and governess to his young and neglected daughter, Sophie (Isla Watt). Meanwhile, the malevolent Dr. Curlew (Richard E. Grant) convinces William to have his wife committed to an asylum. Pregnant, Sugar hopes in vain that William will accept their child, but he has other, more socially respectable plans that don’t include her. Desperate and enraged, Sugar takes matters into her own hands.



The Miniseries: 7.5

Critical Response:

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Michel Faber's 2002 novel "The Crimson Petal and the White" is the sexy, squalid, unsettling and endlessly absorbing story of Sugar, a clever prostitute in Victorian London, and William Rackham, the wealthy and egotistical oaf who wants — and gets — her.  The casting of "Crimson Petal" is flawless. O'Down begins as simply weak and smarmy, then feeds on Sugar's ego-stroking to grow convincingly into something much worse. Garai simply is Sugar, and Hale is heartbreaking in a role so over the top, it might have been ridiculous.  Although not as graphically filthy as the book (after all, this is a story about prostitutes), the miniseries does have nudity, sex scenes and frequent shockers. When it aired in Britain last year, one critic complained it wasn't dirty enough to do justice to the novel, however, so there's that.  - Gail Pennington


The Telegraph

Rarely in the history of this newspaper has a reviewer accused a television drama of being insufficiently obscene, of featuring excessively reticent sex scenes, of including too few swear words. This, however, is just such an occasion.  The makers of BBC Two’s adaptation of The Crimson Petal are hardly as constricted as Dickens was – but they’re nowhere near as free as Faber. Television is a medium rather more demure than the literary novel, particularly when it’s only just gone nine in the evening. Of course there were sex scenes in yesterday’s episode, but the moment they got going, the camera would avert its gaze like a blushing verger. – Michael Deacon


San Francisco Chronicle

The direction, by Marc Munden, is competent, if a little slow in places, but it does correctly replicate the pace of a Victorian-esque 850-page novel.  What truly makes the miniseries, though, are the performances in general and that of Garai in particular. The entire story and theme turn not only on contrasts but also on character evolution, which demands precision and nuance from the cast. Sugar's journey is the most complicated and, in concept, perhaps the most difficult to believe as well. Yet Garai makes it entirely credible, convincing us completely as Sugar goes from hardened, emotionally pent-up prostitute blaming men for her very existence to a woman transformed by love, regardless of whether it is misplaced or not. – David Weigand



As titles go, "The Crimson Petal and the White" has to be the worst invitation one could imagine to watch a miniseries filled with graphic sex, nudity and Victorian-era class distinctions. Setting that aside, this four-hour acquisition -- adapted from Michael Faber's novel -- is sumptuously filmed and intriguingly offbeat, yet ultimately fails to deliver a payoff worthy of its come-on. By that measure, Romola Garai as its mysterious, seductive, ethereal heroine proves both a strength and weakness -- preventing "Petal," whatever the hue, from ever fully blossoming. – Brian Lowry



Image: 8/7

The production design for The Crimson Petal and The White calls for a broad, often filtered palette of tone and hues, vivid warm colors, dank squalid shadows and off-kilter framing and liquid focus, the result of freakish wide angle lensing.  Acorn Media transfer, whose image and audio are sourced from Freemantle, the original UK video studio, adequately covers the territory with nicely controlled contrast, and a minimum of transfer artifacts or edge enhancement.  I thought it looked rather good upscaled to 1080p by my OPPO BDP-95 and expanded onto a 110-inch screen.



Audio: 7/8

As is usual for DVD presentations of UK television shows, The Crimson Petal and the White receives a standard Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo rendering, which turns out to be quite adequate for this presentation.  Acorn has also provided us with English subtitles if we feel the need - alas, in yellow font.


Extras: 4

• Deleted scenes

• Interviews with Romola Garai and Chris O’Dowd, director Marc Munden, and key crew members

• Character biographies

Missing is any comment or interview with the author, Michel Faber, (Dutch-born, raised in Australia) still very much alive with his family in Scotland.



Recommendation: 8

The Crimson Petal and The White is a curious melding of a 19th century drama told in 21st century terms.  The best word I can think of to describe it is: Delirious. For delirious it is in story, art design and camera work.  The latter is especially in our face and I can imagine that there will be some who simply won’t warm to the style.  Critics would probably call it: over the top - and I wouldn’t argue with that description.  All the same, the filmmakers have a clear idea of how they want to tell their story and they remain true to it.  I might add that the DVD, which is very good indeed, does cry out for a high-definition presentation to properly drown us in the nuance of color, light and sound.  Recommended.



Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

September 24, 2012

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