This week the BBC broadcast the first episode of its adaptation of Michael Faber's internationally renowned historical novel, The Crimson Petal and the White.

Romola Garai (above) plays Sugar, the brilliantly realised red-haired whore whose intelligence, wit and propensity to do anything a man may desire, renowned for 'never saying no', entrances William Rackham, (Chris O'Dowd) the egotistical industrialist magnate whose wife, the fair haired Agnes, is on the verge of a breakdown, unwilling to reciprocate her husband's advances whilst at the same time being abused by the sinister Doctor Curlew, who is played to perfection by Richard E Grant.

The book is true to its Victorian origins in that it is a sprawling beast with vivid and detailed descriptions woven into an intricate plot and a cast of characters from every spectrum of society. Where it differs to what Dickens offered is in its open treatment of sex which is unflinching and graphic at times, not to say decidedly uncomfortable - but then this is a novel about the life of a prostitute at a time in London when, for every twelve men, there was at least one woman who would do their bidding for a price.

Faber's writing is superb though many readers have found the content to be too dark, oppressive and disturbing. It is all of these things - and more. This is no pretty romantic tale and the VV must confess that when she came to the book's end she was left with a decidedly bad taste in her mouth - at the same being quite sure that that was precisely what Faber intended.

All in all the VV is reserving judgement after seeing just one episode of the BBC dramatisation. Admittedly, it must be very hard to condense such a lengthy novel into four one hourly episodes. Certain details are bound to be lost - but if, as the VV fears, the child of William and Agnes is not to be included, then she would be sorely disappointed - for, without giving anything away, the part Sugar plays in the fate of this girl is an essential part of the plot.

If you've read the book or seen this drama, the VV would love to know what you thought. The first episode is available to watch on iplayer now. This BBC page also has further details about the novel and its characters.


  1. I thought this was drama at it's best. The hubs and I were enthralled. Very dark, very vivid; the set design is syublime in such a bleak way. I haven't read the novel but can't wait for next week's episode - the acting is superb and I didn't think I'd be able to take WR seriously after the IT Crowd, but he's perfect. Love it! Um... did I say I love it?

  2. I loved it too. I wasn't sure if they'd be able to get the flavour of the book but in the first five minutes I knew that it was perfect in that respect. The beeb hasn't held back in showing Faber's book in all its dark depravity! I agree though - it looks as if the child may not appear which is a shame. Am impressed though, looking forward to next week.

  3. Good honest portrayal and at last a thoroughly researched period drama that doesn't show rosy cheeked girls, tea drinking and double weddings. As to 'dark, oppressive and disturbing' does anyone really think that the life of a whore patronised by men buttoned up by the restraints of Victorian values could be anything else. Have been meaning to read this book for some time so really must now.

  4. I bought the book in the wake of the Beeb's adaptation. I've not long started reading, so I'll wait to see how both it, and the TV series, pan out before saying any more.

  5. Yes, let's see how it all pans out.

    It's interesting that everyone I know who hasn't read the book seems to be loving this unconditionally.

    I suppose every adaptation from book to screen leads to certain changes and compromises though - reading an article by Faber in the Guardian recently - it does sound as if William's daughter has not been excluded from the cast after all which is a good thing.


    Guardian Link - though apologies that links do not click through to source in the comments boxes:


  6. Oh, I do hope they bring it to the US!

  7. Episode two was very good!

    Janet - even if they don't show on US tv, I'm sure it will be available on DVD.

  8. Yes, it was! I'm enjoying the book too. Faber has a relaxed and compelling style. It just so happens that I'm reading his novel in tandem with Phineas Finn, the second of Trollope's Palliser novels. About Victorians, about Victorians, one by a Victorian, one who would never have dreamed that his world could have been depicted in such frank terms. :-)

  9. I'm envious Anastasia - I'd love to have time to read much more Trollope.