I love Michel Faber’s writing and it’s a toss up between this and Under The Skin for his greatest work. The two could be no more different; Under the Skin is a taught contemporary sci fi horror set in Scotland and this; an 800 page monstrous take on Dickensian Victorian London.
Both are really great books and consequently both run the risk of taking a good pasting when put on screen.
There has been many year’s of talk that TCPATW would be Hollywood-made and for a while rumour had it that Kirsten Dunst was to be the heroine, Sugar. However it fell eventually to the BBC to make this near epic adaptation. I say near epic because big and bold as it was I think it had even greater potential.
The previews did not make great reading; the panel on Newsnight Review, with the honourable exception of Maureen Lipman, annihilated it, so I approached fearing the worst.
I needn’t have worried.
The, at times, over tricksy focus pulling in the camera work was a bit heavy handed but this was overcome on balance because otherwise it was excellent (moody, creepy, almost surreal in places and beautifully emphasised by a particularly odd (in a good way) score written by newcomer Cristobal Tapai de Veer).
The set and costumes are astounding and the acting of the entire cast, but Particularly Chris O’Dowd (the IT team) and Romola Garai were of BAFTA winning standards, and had to be to pull it off.
In particular O’Dowd’s tortured portrayal of sappy rich boy William Rackham is magnificent. It’s as if he can’t decide how to play the role, but that’s just how Faber wrote it. In the end he comes across as merely a weak sap who is only in it for himself. Perhaps he cannot help it as we frequently see when he is led astray by his particularly vulgar “friends”.
Romola Garai, by contrast, is nailed to the tracks in the conviction of her character, as the upwardly mobile Sugar; pulling herself out of the stench thanks to the interest of Rackham who gradually exalts her social profile in a London where status was everything (and boy did she have status in the underworld, starting off as the top prostitute in London). Her gritty but sometimes tender performance is the beating heart of the book and this ultimately excellent adaptation.
It’s still on iplayer but I’d wait for the DVD and splash out.
For me it would play out better as an epic four hour movie rather than a four part TV series.
Wonderful. Bring on the BAFTAs. (And the Emmys).