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The Woman in White, BBC One review - camp Victoriana | reviews, news & interviews

The Woman in White, BBC One review - camp Victoriana

The Woman in White, BBC One review - camp Victoriana

Wilkie Collins's Gothic whodunnit gets a florid treatment for telly

Ben Hardy as Walter, Olivia Vinall as Laura and Jessie Buckley as Marian© Steffan Hill, BBC/Origin Pictures

The BBC excels at a very particular kind of drama, namely one where production values overawe dramatic content. Its version of The Woman in White (BBC One) proves no exception. Our hero is Walter, a bemused sappy painter played by ex-Eastender Ben Hardy. Not much recommends his character except his ornately Italian friend Pesca who sets up an apparently cushy job for him in the rural retreat of Limmeridge (“When you make it to the top, remember you friend Pesca at the bottom!” he exclaims, only partly in jest). The role consists of restoring some ageing prints while tutoring the daughters of the strange aristocratic owner, Mr Fairlie (Charles Dance, pictured below), to paint.

So far, so good. Except that this is an adaptation of Wilkie Collins’s classic Gothic novel, so of course just before his departure Walter runs into a flighty and troubled woman dressed all in white in the woods while on his way home, and of course when he arrives at Limmeridge, Laura (Olivia Vinall), the daughter of Mr Fairlie with whom he falls immediately and disastrously in love bears a striking resemblance to the mysterious stranger Anne Catherick (also Vinall).

Charles Dance © Steffan Hill BBC/Origin PicturesCue many mooning lustful glances and an overwrought structure of flashbacks which takes us into a policeman’s office sometime after some kind of catastrophe has befallen Laura and Walter. The question is: do we care? Laura’s sister Marian (Jessie Buckley) sports a horsey side-smile and tom-boyish insouciance, while Dance’s Mr Fairlie is a invalid eccentric with a decidedly didactic streak. Both outshine the apparent heros of the drama.

The problem is that auxiliary characters  and villains  are a lot more fun Victorian writing, and BBC drama seems uniformly po-faced when it comes to irreproachable heroes and heroines  which of course makes them a lot more dull to play. For the most part the editing is slick but there’s some puzzlingly choppy areas which suggest that either the production ran into difficulty or there was a distinct lack of taste present in the cutting room on certain days. Among the stunning sets and costumes there’s some cheeky visual jokes (have a look at Laura’s easel when they’re painting en plain air  it’s marvellously childish) but they only serve to reveal the lack of complexity in this televised morality pantomime.

All in all it’s a mixed bag but if camp whodunnit Victoriana is your thing then it’s worth catching.


BBC drama seems uniformly po-faced when it comes to irreproachable heroes and heroines — which of course makes them a lot more dull to play


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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