I’ve been catching up with The Crimson Petal and the White and it’s an encouraging reminder of BBC2’s much better days, though I’m uneasy at the BBC’s current operating assumption that the only acceptable historical drama involves shagging or lesbians. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll happily watch either, but the feeling’s like that of reading the newsletter of some kinky middle-class society of which I’m not a member.
The camerawork’s fashionable, which is never good, but the production design is terrific and the performances spot-on. In tone, and in Mark Gatiss’ side-plot of sexual self-loathing, I’m reminded of David Turner’s 1970 adaptation of Sartre’s Roads to Freedom trilogy. The script is cinematically paced and encourages inference in place of exposition; Lucinda Coxon, Crimson Petal‘s adaptor, is a playwright with no prior TV credits.
Does the current season mark a turning point for BBC drama? As Good Dog points out, this one will be the first to show the outcome of the BBC Trust’s stinging 2009 quality review. Or maybe it represents Ben Stephenson’s master plan anyway, and the review merely marshalled him the way that he was going. It’s good to get an adaptation of a literary work that isn’t already crashingly familiar. But with a generation of writers crushed and discouraged by the Holbification of drama, it’s going to be a while before we start hearing original voices in authored TV again.