Heads up: The Crimson Petal and the White

Lashings of lust and bawdy romps – it's the Victorians' secret
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The Independent Culture

What are we talking about?

A four-part BBC drama adapted from Michel Faber's 2002 novel. Charting the relationship between a smart, scheming prostitute and a wealthy businessman, the Beeb promises it will reveal the underbelly of Victorian life in a way never before seen on screen. Expect lashings of lust, ambition and revenge.

Elevator Pitch

The secret sex lives of the Victorians.

Prime Movers

Michel Faber's novel was widely acclaimed and Lucinda Coxon should be up to the task of adapting (her plays include Happy Now?). It's directed by Marc Munden, responsible for Iraq war drama The Mark of Cain.

The Stars

Quite the who's who of the British period drama: Romola (Emma) Garai and Chris O'Dowd (The Boat that Rocked, The IT Crowd) star, while Gillian Anderson – presumably channelling Bleak House not The X-Files – plays brothel owner Mrs Castaway. Richard E Grant, Shirley Henderson, Amanda Hale and Mark Gatiss all crop up too.

The Early Buzz

Tim Oglethorpe got a bit hot under the collar at the mere thought of all the bodice-ripping, writing in The Mirror: "Phew! Get set for steamy romps from the BBC with a bawdy new period drama packed with prostitutes and punch-ups." The Arts Desk website focused more on the drama as a highbrow jewel in the commissioning crown of a BBC that is "keen to boost its credentials".

Insider Knowledge

A Hollywood version was in the pipeline back in 2002 when it was reported that Faber had sold the rights for $1m (£615,000) to Columbia. Laura Ziskin, executive producer of Pretty Woman – perhaps a fan of the prostitution theme –then got on board, and apparently had Kirsten Dunst in mind. But everything went quiet.

It's great that...

The adaptation may already have sparked new interest in the novel: Canongate reissued the book with a sexy cover, the title inked on a naked back, with book-club notes included.

It's a shame that...

It's only a mini-series; recreating nearly 900 pages might be a bit of a squeeze.

Hit Potential

Given recent enthusiasm for costume dramas, the starry cast and the seedy sexiness of it all, this should be a hit. But only if handled right: there's a risk the show could be too raunchy for the safe Sunday-night slot, yet still too starchy for the Skins generation.

The Details

The Crimson Petal and the White will begin on BBC2 in March.