Lesbian Movie Marathon, Affinity (2008)

Directed by Tim Fywell

Screenplay by Andrew Davies.

I lost 93 minutes of my life watching this TV movie adaptation of Sarah Waters’s novel Affinity last night, so I’m not going to lose much more precious time writing about it.

Warning: post contains spoilers for the plot. Don’t read if you’re planning on reading the book anytime soon.

Sarah Waters’s novel, Affinity, is very clever.  It’s a creepy, mesmerising and ultimately devastating read. As it probes into the lives of women in the nineteenth century, it becomes an exploration of the ways in which we can allow desire to cloud our vision and see what we want to see rather than what’s really in front of us.  We want to see what Margaret wants to see; we become implicated in her own self-deception and end up as manipulated by the text as she is by Selina and Vigers.

So, what’s wrong with the adaptation? Pretty much everything.

It turns an addictive read into a boring and pedestrian watch.

The book is creepy and atmospheric and there is nothing at all creepy or atmospheric about this adaptation.

It removes all the ambiguity upon which the novel depends.  The reader wants to believe in Selina, but in the adaptation, the actress plays her as an obvious con-woman from the start.  She looks like she’d rob her own granny in a heartbeat.  It also removes the ambiguity from the ending.

It has Andrew Davies’s grubby fingers all over it.  He adds a male suitor who doesn’t exist in the book and who tries to rape Margaret in her bedroom while a dinner party is going on downstairs.  Aside from being a ridiculous addition (it is highly unlikely that a middle-class man would have dared enter an unrelated middle-class woman’s bedroom in the Victorian period), it is an unecessarily nasty scene.  It’s also really aggravating because it seems the writer can’t conceive of Margaret not having a man involved in her life somwhere so has to invent one.  This made-up man also gets more scenes than Margaret’s ex-lover, Helen.  Bloody typical.

There are also some other scenes clearly aimed at titillating the straight audience (i.e. Vigers and Selina basically raping young women while pretending to be developing their abilities as mediums).

The producers completely miss the crucial fact that Vigers is a butch lesbian and therefore the class issues that Waters addresses in the novel.  In the book Margaret can’t see Vigers for what she is because Margaret is middle-class, while Vigers is a butch working-class lesbian.  The adaptation does not get any of this and simply represents Vigers as an older woman.  The butch lesbian is rendered invisible yet again, which is kind of ironic.

All in all, this TV movie shows no respect for the lesbian audience and that’s what really annoys me.  It has a feeling of being put together in a rush just because it’s considered trendy and exotic.  The whole thing looks cheap and a bit shoddy without any real care or thought put into it.

One day I hope we will actually have some lesbians writing and directing these things.

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9 thoughts on “Lesbian Movie Marathon, Affinity (2008)

  1. While not referring to lesbians, I noticed a similar thing in The Duchess, where Georgiana was played by Keira Knightly born 1985; whereas the The Duke, her husband, was played by Ralph Fiennes born 1962. In real life, there was only a 9 year age gap, and they married when she was 17 and he was 26 (which is when the film is set). It was like the director couldn’t conceive of an unhappy marriage without translating its complexities into an age dynamic and with an obvious ‘bad guy’. Whereas in real life, the The Duke is still a young man and their complex marital relationship reflects as much his difficulties with an arranged marriage as hers. I think, I guess like in Affinity, the thing that bugged me was this was unnecessary and made the film much less interesting than a more realistic portrayal of the complexities of human intimacy- which is what Waters portrays in her stories.

  2. I gave up on the adaptation half an hour in, because I was losing my voice from shouting at it.

  3. It was like the director couldn’t conceive of an unhappy marriage without translating its complexities into an age dynamic and with an obvious ‘bad guy’.

    Yes, I thought there were lots of problems with The Duchess. The Duke was represented as little more than a villain and they added a gratuitous rape scene in that film too. The real story is much more complex and interesting.

    The Affinity adaptation turned Vigers into the stereotype of the dominating predatory older lesbian, which is of course easier than looking at the complexities of a butch/femme lesbian relationship.

  4. Stupid WordPress ate my comment :*-(

    Shorter Version: I am killed by the irony of novels meant to reclaim lesbian history and experience being turned into homophobic lesbo-punishing fests for dirty old men. IBTP.

    I need to read, like, some Radclyffe or Susan Smith now.

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  6. Once again you’ve saved me from losing 93 minutes of my life! THANK YOU!! I have crossed it off my list.

    I was leery about renting Affinity, since the book was such a devastating kick in the nards – it sounds like the movie is more infuriating than devastating and who needs to be furious? Not I!

    And I have to say that I really enjoy Andrew Davies’ Pride & Prejudice but I didn’t love what he did with Tipping the Velvet – I thought the script for Fingersmith was so much better (also by a man, but still).

    Your review did almost make me want to read the book again, though. Maybe one day I’ll be strong enough to return to Affinity. One day…

  7. roro

    Once again you’ve saved me from losing 93 minutes of my life!

    There are a lot of things you could do in 93 minutes that would be more fun than this adaptation … and more lesbian!

    Oh yes, I wasn’t too happy with the Andrew Davies Tipping the Velvet either *sharpens knives*

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