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Crimson Petal & the White, The

Release Year:        2011
Studio:         Acorn Media
Format:         Colour; NTSC; Widescreen
Rated:         Not Rated; Contains nudity, sexual situations, violence, coarse language, and disturbing images
# of Discs/Episodes:         2/ 4
Running Time:         Approx. 244 minutes
DVD Release Date:         September 25, 2012
Creators:         Marc Munden
Actors:         Romola Garai, Chris O’Dowd, Amanda Hale, Gillian Anderson
DVD Features:         SDH subtitles
E:Top Picks Rating:         7/10

Acorn Media Write-up:    
Enter a Victorian England You’ve never seen: gritty, dark, and unsettling. Based on Michel Faber’s international bestseller, this four-part BBC series follows the fortunes of Sugar (Romola Garai, “Atonement”, “Emma”), a notorious prostitute who longs for a better life. Sexually adept, ambitious, and clever, she casts a spell on William Rackham (Chris O’Dowd, “Bridesmaids”, “The IT Crowd”), feckless heir to a perfume business and husband to a wife slipping slowly into insanity. As their lives intertwine, events are set in motion that will change them forever.

This provocative psychological thriller boasts a stellar cast and a boldly original look and feel, exposing 1870s London as a place where violence and madness lurked everywhere . Garai is “electric” (The Telegraph Magazine, U.K.), O’Dowd “a revelation” (The Daily Telegraph, U.K.), and Amanda Hale (“brilliant” (The Times, U.K.) as Rackham’s wife, Agnes. With Gillian Anderson (“Bleak House”, “The X-Files”) as monstrous madam Mrs. Castaway and Richard E. Grant (“Gosford Park”) as creepy Dr. Curlew, “this striking Gothic melodrama…[is] lurid in the best sense” (The Scotsman, U.K.).

BONUS Deleted scenes (11 min.); interviews with Romola Garai and Chris O’Dowd, director Marc Munden, and key crew members (20 min.); and character biographies.

Jon Ted Wynne Review:    
In the recent documentary series “The Story of the Costume Drama,” mention is made of the fairly recent trend in costume dramas on television to graphically depict sexual behaviour, as well as squalor and decadence. While some interviewed champion such representation as the brave choice, others wonder if enough isn’t enough with all the self-indulgence.

The first few minutes of THE CRIMSON & THE WHITE offer an opportunity for those undecided on the matter to make an informed decision. The audience is subjected to graphic sex, every bodily function you can imagine and a general “rub your face in it” approach trotted out under the banner of realism. It alienates anyone with an imagination, as the “wallowing in filth” mentality overshadows the message of an otherwise powerful and potentially beautiful story of redemption. I really don’t need to see Sugar pulling up her skirts and filling the chamberpot to understand the poverty and indignities she suffers. I am bright enough for that, in case anyone is interested for future reference. I suppose I should consider myself lucky they trust my judgement enough not to have CGId her digestive tract to show the process that led to her requirement for the chamber pot.

Based on the 800+ page novel by Michel Faber and adapted into a four-hour miniseries, the epic story that unfolds is one of great relevance to society: the refusal of a victim to allow her life circumstances to prevent her from loving others and thus perpetuate the cycle of abuse. This is the redeeming feature of THE CRIMSON PETAL & THE WHITE. After all, how many times do afternoon talk shows feature people who explain their aberrant behaviour and negative life choices by crying they were subjected to similar abuse while growing up? This is not uncommon. Accountability for one’s life choices is a challenging and timeless theme. Therefore, by presenting a drama that says, in essence, “there is a better choice to be made,” the filmmakers have given us a gift, even if they’ve dropped it in the mud a few times before handing it over.

The story’s central character is a much-abused prostitute named Sugar who rises above her life circumstances through a unique combination of professional skill, natural intelligence, and a passion for language and literature. Sugar is so well-educated that her knowledge of literature (Shakespeare and Tennyson, for example–it is a line from a Tennyson poem that provides the title of the program) almost strains credibility. She is also possessed of a keen business sense which makes her even more valuable to the man who ultimately offers her a way out from a dead-end existence, sugar-coated though it might temporarily be by her mysterious reputation for never disappointing her clients (meaning she has achieved great status in a time-sensitive profession).

Some outstanding performances propel this story of lust, revenge, redemption, madness, obsession and poetic justice. Romola Garai is excellent in the role of Sugar. She is matched by an effective performance by Chris O’Dowd as her alternately whining, endearing and annoying lover. The best performance for this reviewer is given by Amanda Hale as the mentally unstable wife of O’Dowd’s character. She is magnetic and utterly convincing in her sensitive and heart-rending portrayal. And Gillian Anderson’s portrayal of Sugar’s madame is creepy enough to be an alien on “The X-Files” it is so remarkable.

Add to this mix production values that leave no detail left out, and one is easily transported into 1870s London, for better or for worse.

So much talent came together to produce THE CRIMSON PETAL & THE WHITE it is actually disheartening to think how it was misdirected into showing human depravity rather than striving for beauty. This is, after all, a story which attempts social relevance.

Any consideration of this program has to include the controversial elements as they are so prominently placed they cannot be ignored, rather like a dare–“there, what do you think of THAT?”

Therefore how much one enjoys THE CRIMSON PETAL & THE WHITE will depend a great deal on where one sits on the issue raised at the start of this review. Some of the sexual situations are depicted in a way that is borderline pornographic. Many of the encounters continue the recent British television trend to show front to back sex for some reason, (perhaps the easiest way to show both actors in close-up at the same time?) And really, do we need to see people urinating and vomiting and the over-all lack of hygiene shown in loving detail?

One other observation, speaking of trends in British programming. Does anyone writing music for films today know how to write an actual musical score nowadays? It seems so much of the current “music” is nothing but synthesized, generic-sounding, atmospheric soundscape rather an actual series of tunes. There are exceptions, but so often the background score is just a repetitive, pulsing electronic mishmash which is especially out of place in a period piece

In the end it all comes down to the story. Despite some loose ends that need explaining (what’s with Sugar’s dry skin throughout–is this an ironic metaphor for something in light of the fact that O’Dowd’s character is a manufacturer of soaps and perfumes?)–the central theme of choosing not to perpetuate abusive behaviour makes THE CRIMSON PETAL & THE WHITE worth a look. Just be warned. There is a lot of unpleasantness and unnecessary indulgences that some will consider offensive.

In other news from Acorn Media, the superb series “Foyle’s War” is returning with three new episodes to be broadcast as part of the Masterpiece Mystery Season on PBS in summer of  2013.

That’s down the road a bit at the time of this writing, but it’s something to be greatly anticipated for fans of the series.

“World War II may be over, but Christopher Foyle’s war against injustice and wrong-doing rages on,” says “Masterpiece” executive producer Rebecca Eaton. “His very loyal American [and Canadian] fans will be thrilled.”

Starring Michael Kitchen and Honeysuckle Weeks and created by celebrated novelist and screenwriter Anthony Horowitz, the series will see Foyle and loyal friend Sam in a new post War era as their worlds shift into those of MI5.

With many stories based on real-life cases, Foyle will focus his attention on the world of espionage as he gathers secret intelligence in support of Britain’s security, defence and the Government’s foreign and economic policies.

In his new role as a Senior Intelligence Officer, Foyle discovers that the British establishment is rife with communist sympathisers and traitors. In this delicately-balanced period in history, 1946-47, Foyle will use all his intelligence, guile and intuition to keep the country safe.

Meanwhile, Sam is happily married to local MP Adam and finding her feet as a wife with a daunting role in local politics. Reunited with Foyle, she is also offered a surprising new working role…

The three x 120 minute films have been ordered from Eleventh Hour Films, the production company founded by producer Jill Green. Series 8 will co-star Daniel Weyman (“Great Expectations”), Ellie Haddington (“The Café”, “Luther”) and Tim McMullen (“The Woman In Black”, “Silk”).

Masterpiece on PBS has been airing “Foyle’s War” since 2004.

Acorn Media purchased “Foyle’s War” in November 2010 and worked closely with producer Jill Green and creator/writer Anthony Horowitz to develop new episodes. These episodes mark the first time Acorn Media has produced original drama content. Acorn has been releasing “Foyle’s War” on home video in North America since 2003. The DVDs presenting Series 1 and 2 of the series are Acorn Media U.S.’s top two best-selling DVDs of all time.