Rating 4

Directed by Tim Fywell

Written by Andrew Davies, adapted from the novel by Sarah Waters

Starring Anna Madeley, Zoe Tapper, Amanda Plummer, Anna Massey, Anne Reid and Domini Blythe

A year after the death of her father, Margaret Prior (Anna Madeley), who is being sedated by her mother with large daily doses of laudanum, becomes a “lady visitor” at Millbank Prison. Margaret, who is resisting pressure from her domineering mother to marry, takes a particular interest in Selina Dawes (Zoe Tapper), a young medium who claims to be innocent of the crimes she has been found guilty of committing. A close bond is formed between the two women, as Margaret comes to terms with the increasing distance she feels from her one-time best friend and lover, who is now married to her brother.

Sarah Waters
novel ‘Affinity’ was first published in 1999, a year after her debut work ‘Tipping the Velvet’. Set in Victorian England and using Spiritualism as its central theme, it is a mixture of ghost story and romantic love story, influenced by Gothic novelists like Wilkie Collins and the ghost stories of M R James. The television adaptation was written by Andrew Davies, whose other work includes the superb 2005 adaptation of ‘Bleak House’ and the more recent ‘Little Dorrit’. He also wrote the screenplays for the two ‘Bridget Jones Diaries’ films.

It is a brilliant example of a Christmas ghost story, although not actually set at Christmas time. The atmosphere throughout remains oppressively gloomy. I found it interesting to observe the depiction of a Victorian women’s prison, but even more interesting was the relationship between Margaret and her mother. We are initially led to assume the laudanum is administered because Margaret is grieving for the death of her father, but it seems likely her mother is aware of her “unnatural” inclinations, as they would undoubtedly be perceived, something that remains unspoken, but is ever present. The course of action chosen by the man Margaret is expected to marry, intended to rid her of her ills, is to attempt to rape her, but she remains defiant throughout.

The acting is excellent, particularly that of Anna Madeley and Zoe Tapper.

Highly recommended.

Review posted 31 December 2008


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