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.