I should confess right now that I am an absolute sucker for just about any film or mini-series that's set in the Victorian era. The sensible part of my brain realizes that those times were very difficult for women in general and even more so for those women who did not have wealthy families to shelter them from the unpleasant realities of that particular historical period. Add same-sex relationships to the general public consensus of human sexuality as a vile, yet necessary act, rather than something to honestly seek out and enjoy-and you've got one lace-trimmed, overheated potboiler of emotion. 'Don't ask, don't tell' is by no means a modern concept. The phrase fits 'Fingersmith' perfectly. All those modest, floor-length gowns and pristine pearl-buttoned gloves are incredibly sexy: what one cannot see, one must imagine and anticipate. Although I'd go mad, being confined in a corset constantly, in our no holds barred sexual climate, it's rather intrigue-ing to consider the difficulty of actually removing any of that confining armor in order to reach the sinful flesh that lies beneath all that whalebone and silk!
OK, I don't mean to imply that any old 'heaving bosomed, quivering shaft of love' type romance will do. It's always a bonus if there is an actual story and the tale Sarah Waters has spun so deftly is not your run of the mill historical romance, not by a long shot. As in her previous novel 'Tipping the Velvet' Waters deftly draws a detailed picture of love that is real-and forbidden. Peter Ransley's adaptation for television is as true to the written word as it is possible to be, in a span of three hours, from a story bursting with surprising twists that you won't see coming unless you've read the book-and even so, he still manages to draw the viewer into the world of thievery, guile and living by one's wits alone. True, some of the details, especially those concerning the early experiences of the main characters, have been condensed or else, quickly skimmed over, but overall, the adaptation works.
A good story needs a good cast and there isn't one actor that turns in a mediocre performance. Sally Hawkins is instantly likeable as the street-smart, yet still innocent Sue Trinder and Elaine Cassidy is both fascinating and chilling as the faux naif heiress, Maud Lilly. Rupert Evans, as the 'gentleman' Richard Rivers has a fey, early Brad Pitt quality that works well-and the amazing Imelda Staunton, as Mrs. Sucksby, is by turns infuriatingly sympathetic and horrifyingly venal. She's marvelous in her ability to convey the manner in which good and evil can co-exist in one person. Her final unselfish gift to Sue and Maud proves that, and reminds us that to judge quickly is never a good idea. Time and again, we are confronted with the fact that everyone in this story has something they would rather not share, even with those they love. The contrast of illusion with reality is a large part of what makes this an entertaining piece of fiction.
What I enjoyed most, both in the novel and the miniseries, is the importance of gloves and everything they symbolize. Maud has been trained to wear gloves always-even in bed, and when Richard Rivers removes one of her gloves and kisses her bare hand, it kindles a jealousy in Sue that a kiss on the lips never could. And when Sue slowly removes Maud's gloves during their first time as lovers, the delicate undoing of those pearl buttons carries an erotic charge far greater than if they'd ripped their nightgowns off and gone at it without hesitation. The sensitivity of fingers rarely exposed is obvious, as the previously chaste Maud is driven to a frenzied orgasm-and she returns the favor with alacrity. It isn't until later that it becomes quite clear that Maud is far more educated in the ways of love than she appears, and the glove becomes something far more ironic in nature. It's no accident that Waters chose 'Fingersmith' for the book's title.
The shifting points of view can be jolting at times, but it's necessary in order to fully grasp the concept of who's really being deceived-and by whom. I found that after a while, it didn't bother me: I was more intent on following along with something that had more layers than the proverbial onion.
Minor quibbles aside, this is a thoroughly engrossing miniseries. Although I felt the final scene had a disconcertingly abrupt quality, if you haven't yet seen it, add it to your list. I don't think you'll be sorry-and I don't think you'll ever feel the same way about gloves afterward.
Despite the title of this show, its actual popularity among viewers was varied at best, leading to its cancellation in 2001. Though it only had two seasons, the fandom world has whole-heartedly embraced this off-colored parody on teen dramas in the late 90's to early 00's. Ryan Murphy, one of the most famous gay writer/producer/directors of the new millennium, really found a great balance between making a joke and making a point about just how fickle teen angst and 'popularity' really is. While he certainly managed to represent the gay community with a flamboyant yet subtle cast of supporting actors and actresses, it was the subtext that played the bigger role in this weekly, sixty-minute dramedy.
We are immediately introduced to two girls that obviously come from very different life experiences. Sam McPherson, the 'ugly duckling' brunette, is a budding journalist with a hatred of popularity and a pension for digging up dirt. On the other end of the spectrum is the beautiful, popular, blonde cheerleader, Brooke McQueen, whose life isn't quite as perfect as everyone would believe. They are at the beginning of their sophomore year, and from day one it is apparent that these two are destined to be mortal enemies. From betrayed friendships to scathing articles written to school wide food fights, the girls appear to be headed down a very destructive path. However fate has a few tricks up its sleeve, as Sam's mother and Brooke's father return from 'separate' vacations and announce...they're engaged!
Now the girls' worlds suddenly collide on every level forcing them to share dinners, traditions and an infamous right sink, as their parental units decide that cohabitating is the best solution to all their problems. Sam and her mother move into the McQueen house, quaintly dubbed 'the Palace' leaving the brooding brunette to wonder if she will ever regain her place in the world. While Brooke struggles to reconcile her need for popularity with her desire to be seen as something more. When the lines of friendship and personal battles begin to blur, each girl is forced to see the other in a new light, and a begrudging mutual respect forms. Yet Brooke and Sam go above and beyond to show that old habits do in fact die hard, especially with the onset of peer pressure and their parents fast approaching nuptials. They struggle to define family even as they slowly become one.
But where is the subtext I mentioned earlier? There's a little bit evident in every episode. From the sexual tension that swarms around every heated argument and coy glance that Sam and Brooke share to the kiss shared between Sam's best friends Carmen and Lily, there is subtext lurking around every corner. There is even a point where Brooke admits to having questioned her own sexuality, not that it's a huge surprise when you add in a slightly psychotic wealthy Texan cheerleader, a back stabbing best friend and football player turned drama geek boyfriend. There is enough deliciously clichéd 'are they? aren't they?' swarming around to leave the audience wondering just what goes on in 'the Palace' while the 'rents are away.