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Television series

The Crimson Petal and the White

Oh, Sugar, Sugar.

Rod Lott September 18th, 2012

Four of the finest hours of entertainment this year can be found in The Crimson Petal and the White, an enchanting, seductive BBC miniseries based on Michel Faber’s best-selling novel. Set in London of 1874, in a time of cholera, it is, as co-star Chris O’Dowd (Bridesmaids) states in a bonus interview, “a love story almost entirely bereft of love.”

Romola Garai (Atonement) plays Sugar, a 19-year-old prostitute pimped out by her own mother (The X-Files’ Gillian Anderson, almost unrecognizable) to the hoity-toity about town.

One such uncool customer is William Rackham (O’Dowd), a soap titan married to a mentally ill woman (Amanda Hale, Bright Star). So taken is he by Sugar’s honeypot that he buys her exclusive services. For him, it’s an obsession; for her, an opportunity.

Costume dramas are not my cup of tea, but Crimson Petal is helmed as if it were a psychological thriller, with so many dreams and schemes abound, I couldn’t help but be riveted.

Comedian O’Dowd makes a strong impression in his dramatic debut, but the show belongs to the gifted Garai, who turns in an uncommonly strong and brave performance. Were this an actual film and not "just" a made-for-TV miniseries, it likely would turn up on my best-of-2012 list. —Rod Lott

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