The Blagger's Guide To...'The Crimson Petal and the White'
'Downton Abbey with fellatio, really'
Sunday 10 April 2011
*BBC2's adaptation of Michel Faber's 2002 novel The Crimson Petal and the White began on Wednesday and continues for the next three Wednesdays, at 9pm.
When the novel was published in 2002, Time magazine described Faber's prose as "better than sex". When the TV adaptation was discussed on the BBC's The Review Show earlier this month, it was described by a disappointed Maureen Lipman as "Downton Abbey with fellatio, really".
*The title of the novel is taken from an 1847 poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. It begins: "Now sleeps the crimson petal, now the white;
Nor waves the cypress in the palace walk;
Nor winks the gold fin in the porphyry font:
The firefly wakens: waken thou with me ..."
*The Crimson Petal was the first novel that Faber wrote, and a version of it was finished and put away when he was 20. The original was much more depressing: "It ended with Sugar being crushed by a cab," he has said. Though Faber had published other successful novels and collections of short stories, the 850-page The Crimson Petal made his name and paid for a flat near the Meadows in Edinburgh. He mostly lives in a railway cottage near Fearn in the Scottish Highlands with his wife, Eva.
*Faber was born in The Hague and grew up in Melbourne, but is described by the Scottish Arts Council as "Scottish by formation", which means that he is entitled to win (and has won) prizes such as The Macallan Prize and The Saltire First Book of the Year Award. However, Austlit, the "Australian Literature Resource", regards him as an Australian writer. He started writing almost as soon as he learned English, at the age of seven. By 13, he was writing a short story every day. "They were abysmal, of course," he says.
*Faber trained and worked as a nurse for 10 years. He has no television, no radio, and does not drive. He has no sense of smell.
*The literary agent Giles Gordon claims that he is "gently satirised" on page 239 of The Crimson Petal, after twice refusing to take on Faber as a client.
*The Crimson Petal and the White is a racy, Victorian epic set in Notting Hill and starring a well-read, 19-year-old prostitute, Sugar. She is played in the BBC adaptation by Romola Garai, a veteran of literary adaptations including As You Like It (Celia), Atonement (Briony), Vanity Fair (Amelia), I Capture the Castle (Cassandra) and Nicholas Nickleby (Kate Nickleby). She has just finished filming David Nicholls's novel One Day. She says of this new role: "It's racy. If you just want pretty hats, this probably isn't for you." Faber's wife says: "Michel is Sugar."
*Garai played Emma in the 2009 BBC adaptation of Jane Austen's novel. At the time, she was studying for an English Literature degree and was often caught reading Seamus Heaney and Philip K Dick on set.
*Nobody in the all-star cast is a stranger to literary adaptations. It includes Shirley Henderson (Kate in The Taming of the Shrew in the BBC's 2005 Shakespeare Retold series) as Emmeline Fox; Gillian Anderson (Any Human Heart, Bleak House) and Chris O'Dowd (Gulliver's Travels).
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