Tag Archives: Shirley Henderson

Kick ass women: Shirley Henderson

I’ve been enjoying Death in Paradise. It’s easy, light viewing and a bit Agatha Christie in approach, but Ben Miller is rather good in it, and the setting is so delightful, it feels like being bathed in glorious sunshine. You can feel your skin absorbing the vitamin D.

And now I’ve heard Shirley Henderson will be guest starring, there’s another fine reason to tune in. I loved many things about the BBC adaptation of The Crimson Petal and the White, but my favourite actor in it was Henderson. She’s quite a diminutive person, but whatever role she’s in, the character is portrayed powerfully enough to steal every scene. In The Crimson Petal, she played Mrs Fox, consumptive saviour of prostitutes, and the object of Mark Gatiss’s superbly wracked religious nut, Henry Rackham’s, constant lust. He played it, to misquote Colin Firth’s directions on how to play Mr Darcy, “as if walking around with an erection”.

She’s been in many things, and been wonderful in them, including Trainspotting and Hamish Macbeth. Plus she plays Moaning Myrtle in the Harry Potter films of course. Jo the Hat reminded me she snogged Rufus Sewell in The Taming of the Shrew (I hate that play, but it was difficult to hate this, because those two were in it). But it’s a sign of how much I like Henderson that I will even forgive her this.

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The Crimson Petal and the White (ep 3)

If you imagine the Victorian era as one where bitter secrets were kept hidden beneath a profusion of aspidistras (thank you Mr Orwell), utter despair masked under immaculate swathes of black mourning lace, and the sexuality of ‘respectable’ women so deeply buried they might as well be sewn into their bloomers, then The Crimson Petal and the White has all of that to a T.

There was less sex in this episode (and what action Rackham managed to get looked either extremely uncomfortable  – in an ancient, squeaky, lumpy single bed – or what was tantamount to necrophilia  – with a heavily sedated and emotionally traumatised wife) but it was an absolute corker nonetheless. My highlights included a fantastic black lace shrouded interchange between Agnes Rackham (Amanda Hale) and Mrs Fox (Shirley Henderson), whose eyes alone act the pants off most other people in the business. I also loved the echoes of Jane Eyre with Sugar moving into the spartan governess room in the Rackham household, overtly to look after his daughter Sophie, but really to be on hand for Rackham to shag at his convenience.   Continue reading


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The Crimson Petal and The White

The Crimson Petal and The White continues to be the highlight of the TV week for me. Episode two kicks off with another of Sugar’s (Romola Garai) fantasies whereby she wakes William Rackham (Chris O’Dowd) with a red-hot poker. In reality it’s a gentle hand on his chest, and she’s soon planting the seed in Rackham’s mind of acquiring more salubrious surroundings for their liaisons. “I’ll be carried off by the cholera by the time I’m twenty five,” she warns him, when he moans about the smell in her rooms. She’s well aware that Rackham is worth a bit, having rifled through his briefcase whilst being – ahem – taken from behind in the last episode, (commendable multi-tasking) and checking out his address.

Meanwhile, Rackham’s brother, Henry (Mark Gatiss) continues his visits to Mrs Fox (Shirley Henderson) – who happens also to be the sister of the evil doctor Curlew played menacingly by Richard E Grant. Poor Mrs Fox is clearly ailing, though Henry seems oblivious to this fact, so captivated by her that the first rule of period drama completely eludes him (the first rule being; if someone coughs, they’ll be dead by the end of the episode). When this is finally pointed out to him, Henry questions his very faith, and burns his bibles and himself, fantasising in his final moments about finally getting it on with the Foxy Mrs F.

Mrs Rackham (Amanda Hale) visits a pale and emaciated friend, with something of the Lady Gaga about her, who introduces her to a new health regime – a diet of green beans, supplemented by the occasional spoonful of well strained oxtail soup (no doubt it will feature in the Daily Mail  health section next week). Basically, we’re talking anorexia, with added pills (no doubt opium) washed down with ‘Godfrey’s cordial’. By the time she gets home, Mrs R is as high as a kite, looking strangely serene at dinner with her husband, until she reveals that the reason for her newfound calm is that she has a ‘guardian angel’ (this being Sugar, spied from her window at the end of episode 1). Poor old Rackham – it put him right off his grub.

It turns out that Mrs Castaway (Gillian Anderson, reminding me, at times of an evil version of Dorcas Lane from Lark Rise to Candleford – not sure why) isn’t just Sugar’s ‘Madam’, but is her mother as well.  When Rackham announces that he wishes to take Sugar away from her, their parting is choked with words left unsaid, although Sugar’s initial joy at being given a place of her own is very touching. Feeling out of place and lonely however, she keeps popping back to see her old friends, one of whom asks if she’s actually fond of Rackham. Sugar responds that she’s ‘used to him’, and when he’s away, ‘misses the world that comes with him’. Despite her protestations, one gets the impression that Sugar is becoming quite fond of Rackham. Although he has the cash, she clearly wields the power in the relationship. Continue reading

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The Crimson Petal & the White: Victorian filth

You might get more than you expected if you tune into this looking for Victorian filth. Yes, there are bare breasts a plenty, whores, and all manner of lewd behaviour. The brothel S&M shadow puppetry tickled me particularly – the Victorians were certainly inventive when it came to perversion. But alongside smut of a sexual nature, this production positively reeks of other bodily fluids. The streets look rank and stinking, we see a cart overturned, the horse prostrate and blood puddled across the dank, grey cobbles as possessions are pilfered by passers-by. Many faces are raddled with pox, and inside the many sheeted partitions of the brothel, the camera sweeps past heaps of laundry and a woman pissing over a bowl.

Conversely, in the home of wealthy perfumiers the Rackhams, we get ostentatious wealth, lots of maidservants in black and white, wood panelling, gilded mirrors and red painted walls. But the stench is equally bad here, because William Rackham’s wife, Agnes, very much in the Charlotte Perkins Gilman Yellow Wallpaper vein, is going mad in the stifled interior, in no way helped by the expensive attentions of dodgy Dr Curlew (Richard E Grant) who keeps threatening to have her committed in order to manipulate her into being sexual abused by him during their sessions. At one point she writes ‘help’ on the condensation on her bedroom window.

The pompous and rather ridiculous Rackham seeks relief from the stresses of home and his failure to convince his father that he should allow him to write for a living by visiting über prostitute Sugar, played by the superb Romola (I Capture The Castle, Emma) Garai. He finds her solicitations to be so extraordinary and tender (though entirely fake) that he pays both her and brothel keeper Mrs Castaway (Gillian Anderson) sufficient money to make Sugar his sole sexual property. Sugar is also a writer and there is a delicious literary joke running through about Sugar’s fantasies about slashing his throat.

The story is taken from a 2002 book by Michel Faber, which I haven’t read, so I can’t comment on how accurate an adaptation it is. The title (thank you Wiki) is from a 1847 poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson entitled Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal, the opening line of which is ‘Now sleeps the crimson petal, now the white’. But I did enjoy this first episode very much. It’s clever, unsettling and tricksy, and beautifully shot. Plus there are brilliant performances all round, including by the ever marvellous Shirley Henderson.

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Lustbox: Rufus Sewell

Zorro schmorro. He’s done perfectly well in Shakespeare (most notably as Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew with Shirley Henderson), I liked him as Prince Leopold in The Illusionist. But the two best Rufus years for me were undoubtedly 1994 (Will Ladislaw in the BBC version of Middlemarch) and 1995 (Seth Starkadder in Cold Comfort Farm). It’s the proposterously romantic and slightly wayward curly hair, marvellously cut cheekbones and huge, soulful eyes. The  delicious voice helps of course. Oh yes, and the diffidence. Lordy. I’m coming over quite peculiar just typing this. Cold Comfort Farm is a marvellously wicked story from start to finish, so Sewell as Starkadder is icing on a splendid cake in it. Despite the soulful eyes, he’s very far from being a wimp and he shows his manly physique in this. Plenty tall and broad of shoulder and good at comedic self-deprecation too.

But it’s in Middlemarch that Sewell really hits his stride. He is the molten core at the centre of the series. You just wait for scenes that he’s in. It’s not that the other actors aren’t competent in it, they very much are, but he smoulders so much I needed smelling salts to get me through an episode.

I’m not knocking Colin Firth in Pride and Prejudice. He does look fine in wet shirt and breeches, but that was blatant cheating by Andrew Davies. Jane Austen put no such thing in the novel. Will Ladislaw stays dry and clothed, which frankly, because Rufus Sewell is the man buttoned-up, is even sexier.

Nobody does moody, repressed longing like our Rufus. Now where did I put those smelling salts?

If you love Rufus, you might want to look at this post on the delicious man in Zen.

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