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The Crimson Petal and the White is an adaptation of the hugely successful novel by  British author TK, which has been adapted into an epic two-part miniseries that will be premiering for the first time in the United States on Encore on September 10th and 11th.

SugarThe series introduces the character of Sugar, a prostitute living in 1870s London, and follows the passionate affair that she and a wealthy, married heir to a perfume company indulge in. The plot is intriguing and focuses on what audiences love to watch - dramatic moments of love, lust, madness and revenge! These factors and more made The Crimson Petal and the White such a huge success on BBC2 in the UK, that it took just a year for it to travel across the pond and onto our tellys here in the US.

Romola Garai (pronounced Garry) plays the very sought after Sugar, a sexually adept prostitute whose reputation for sensuality precedes her. Sugar is very bright and literate, and in fact, in the show, she is writing a novel. Sugar wants to get on to the part in her life where she uses her brain to make a living rather than her body.

Over a 16 week period of shooting, Garai had to undertake many difficult, and some even dangerous physical tasks. “It’s a very visual show, and the director, Marc Marc Munden, had to sustain the incredible impact of the novel visually, so the look of the character was very important,” Garai told Dish. “She’s described in extreme, painful detail in the novel, and she has a skin condition, which required some prosthetics every day. We also had to -- my own hair is not red, and she is a vibrant redhead so I was wearing a wig. Also, the way she’s costumed is extremely important because the costumes are a source of huge symbolic importance in the novel,  in describing her journey. So it was always very significant, what I was wearing, and there was a lot of care and attention paid to those decisions. I was very fortunately allowed to be involved in those decisions as well.”
Rackham and Sugar
So Sugar does what she does, and along comes an opportunity for her to move up in the world, in the form of Mr. William Rackham, played by Chris O’Dowd. His character, William Rackham is an egotistical perfume mangnate that loathes the business that he inherited from his father. He is deeply in debt but still lives in a luxurious manner in Notting Hill. His dissatisfaction with his life is made worse by the fact that he is caring for his increasingly unstable wife. When he is introduced to Sugar, he immediately falls under her spell, despite his previous history with women. “He doesn’t do himself any favors,”  Mr. O’Dowd  said when asked about dealing with Sugar’s manipulation, “The fact that he has such poor female role models in his own life has definitely influenced him so that he treats women so deplorably. And more than anything, I think he implodes under the expectations that he has of himself.”

Also, do not miss former X-Files superstar Gillian Anderson as the the evil Mrs. Castaway, Madam of the local whorehouse where Sugar works.
Emmaline Fox
To add more seasoning  to this recipe for delicious drama, William has an older brother, Henry Rackham (Mark Gatiss), who lives a pious life, and abstains from sins of the flesh; that is until he meets the widow, Mrs. Emmeline Fox, played by Shirley Henderson. Driven insane by his forbidden desire for Mrs. Fox, Henry is forced to choose between his faith and the one he loves. His frustration is made only worse when Mrs. Fox’s older brother Dr. Curlew (Richard E. Grant) sends her away to the coast so that she might recover from a bout of consumption. Dr. Curlew, far from being the benevolent doctor he appears to be, has a game of his own, and enjoys manipulating the lives of his patients. Especially, his more affluent patients like William Rackham’s “unstable” wife that the good doctor keeps well sedated.

Sugar and RackhamO’Dowd explains, “There is so much to draw on from the book that you could almost get bogged down in it. I feel like we were in one of those very fortunate positions where Lucinda (Coxon, series screenwriter) had managed to squeeze the most beautiful things from the novel onto the pages of the script. Coxon had the tedious task of converting the 864 page book into a script suitable for viewing. “Yes, It’s a very thick book,” she concurred, adding “and the first challenge was, when I was working, it was too heavy and too big to carry around with me, and so I had to confess eventually to Michel Faber (the author of the original book) that I’d torn it into four parts, which I have never done with a book before. It was very hard to do. I felt like a real Nazi.” She went on to say that, “I just had to choose the stuff that best served our story.”

Period dramas like The Crimson Petal and the White have always been popular subjects for movies, but there have always been some die hard fans who insist there should be no deviation from the original when it come to transforming their favorite books into something for the big screen. When asked how proprietary audiences tend to be about recent books as opposed to classics like Shakespeare and Austen, Garai had this to say.  “I think people are always proprietary about things that they love. And with adaptations of 19th century novels or Shakespeare, there’s usually a precedent in terms of other adaptations. I think I’ve only ever been in one adaptation of a 19th century novel that’s never been adapted before. So, at least in that instance, the barrier has been broken in terms of the audience's patience for an adaptation.”
Sugar outside of bedroom
We asked Garai whether she ever felt  pressured to do right by a role. “It was this one, definitely, she replied. “I mean, I think--- I’ve never played a character where I went to work everyday and I thought, you know, ‘If I mess this up, I will--- I will feel a deep personal sense of failure,’ rather than thinking, like, ‘Oh, it’s fine. People have a short memory. It doesn’t really matter.’

“No. I felt a huge sense of responsibility to try and bring someone that, as far as in my own life, is someone who is already alive and in the world as a character. And, you know, I suppose the problem with getting a job that you want this badly, is that then you actually have to do it, and that can be a mixed blessing.”

Check out this awesome 2-day event on September 10-11 at 8pm et/pt only on ENCORE!
 

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www.Dishmag.com / Issue 138 - September 2018
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