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Stephanie Womick

The Woman in White (PBS)

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I had the opportunity to watch a screener for PBS's adaptation of Wilkie Collins's Victorian sensation novel, The Woman in White, and I quite liked it. It's a five-episode miniseries, and I believe that fans of the novel will find much to enjoy. The adaptation is largely faithful to the novel, though there is an invented frame narrative structure that introduces a new character, and which mostly feels a bit confusing and unnecessary. The settings are lovely, made appropriately Gothic with the addition of moonlight or mist, as necessary. I suspected going in that the performances of the actors playing Marian Halcombe (here performed by Jessie Buckley) and Count Foscoe (Riccardo Scamarcio) would be crucial to the success of the series, and both delivered (though this Foscoe is considerably younger and lighter than the original). 

What was perhaps most surprising about this adaptation was the role of Laura Fairlie (Olivia Vinall). In the novel, she's ironically rather forgettable, a pale watercolor portrait. She's painted with a bit more vividness in the miniseries, though I cringed at her introduction as an unconventionally free-spirited devotee of the cult of sensibility wandering about in her nightdress. However, her character develops as the series progresses, and, critically, we see her experiences from her own perspective. In the novel, the events are related by a series of narrators, mostly Walter Hartright, but also Marian, Uncle Frederick, their lawyer, Gilmore, Foscoe, various servants, even a tombstone, but never Laura herself. Because this protective layer of second-hand narration is removed in the miniseries, the story actually becomes rather more serious and disturbing, discarding the caper-like quality and delightfully creepy tone of the original.

 

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Thanks for posting that Stephanie. I was genuinely curious to hear what you thought since I know you are a fan of the novel.

I was thrown a bit by the color palette. I realized about 1/2 way through the first episode that I was expecting more moors, moonlight, shadows...you know lots of visual Gothic cliches. There do seem to be contrasts in other scenes. Lots more vibrant colors than I expected. But that worked for me, perhaps suggesting the strangeness of particular ecnounters rather than the whole world. 

One of the actresses was also in Longergan's re-make of Howard's End, so I also had a little bit of "where did I see her before"?  Btw, looks like it is being broadcast on many PBS affiliates now. 

 

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I like this book a lot--I read it once in my teens and then once, again, for a graduate seminar. So I'll try to check this out, although the recent adaptation of The Moonstone left me relatively cold.

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