The Woman in White is unexpectedly brilliant. I confess I have not read the novel so going in blind added a new layer of intrigue. The miniseries builds the gothic and foreboding atmosphere, similar to that of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey.
Adapted from the mystery novel written by Wilkie Collins, this new British period drama is set in the 1860s and will have you guessing until the end. As the story plays out, new layers unveil secrets that any fan of mystery can devour ‘til their heart’s content. But don’t fret my romance enthusiasts, as there is a romantic story beneath all the masks and layers. The romance is not hot and fervent like that of Darcy and Elizabeth but is instead a slow blooming ardor that comes to the rescue when sorely needed.
PLOT SUMMARY – THE WOMAN IN WHITE (Minor Spoilers)
We are first introduced to Walter Hartright (Ben Hardy), an artist who gets a job teaching two half-sisters, Laura Fairlie (Olivia Vinall) and Marion Halcombe (Jessie Buckley), how to draw. But on his way, he encounters a mysterious woman dressed in white who has escaped from a lunatic asylum.
Settling in Limmeridge, Walter develops a budding relationship with Marion while also falling in love with Laura – who is equally besotted. After some investigation on the part of Marion and Walter, they discover the unusual woman was Anne Catherick, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Laura. Thus, starts the tale of secrecy and thrill.
We are introduced to Sir Percival Glyde (Dougray Scott) who is Laura’s unlikely fiancée, marrying her for vast wealth. We also meet his equally devilish but unfairly charismatically friend, Count Fosco (Riccardo Scamarcio) who becomes enamoured with Marion, despite being married to her aunt.
‘There was a girl that used to come here years ago, my mother used to give her our old dresses, that girl insisted on only wearing white from that time on’ – Miss Halcombe
The Woman in White includes a fabulous female character to watch out for: Marion Halcombe!
She’s a strong character, always maintains her independence, and doesn’t allow herself to be controlled or swayed by anyone. In the initial episodes, it’s her strong will that gets me through the series because Laura Fairlie is quite the opposite. Laura’s a gentle and guileless heroine but Marion shows glimpses of Elizabeth Bennet’s fiery spirit.
Marion doesn’t take any nonsense from any of the men, fights her corner even if that means shunning the traditional restraining corsets. Not to mention, she never shies away from shouting feisty speeches in aid of vulnerable Laura. She could easily have been born in the wrong century. She’s a rescuer of dogs, horse rider and a proto-feminist. She will likely become a fan favorite and we will all wish Marion was there for us when we feel insecure, or a lack of power.
Who doesn’t love a strong headed female character in a period drama?
The set-up of the series was done exceedingly well; very modern in its approach. Starting with a police investigation, there were elements of a modern-day court drama – showing Wilkie Collins was ahead of his time. The story works backward in a non-linear fashion, starting from the end, and through flashbacks, we see events from the past. With this format, we as the viewers get a limited viewpoint of events, pulling us in deeper while we piece together all the information. It also forces us to suspect everyone.
A lady’s maid is typically a close confidant but, in this series, we are never truly sure if Mrs. Michelson can be trusted completely. The relationship between Laura and Mrs. Michelson gives the viewer a sense of unease. Throughout the series, her character is never painted completely black or white and we are left guessing where she falls on the loyalty scale. Is she truly someone to be trusted or a spy planted by Sir Percival?
A pivotal moment comes when Mrs. Michelson’s allegiance is tested (episode 3, for the curious viewers). This moment was truly captivating for me because this added a new facet to her character. Will she show some sign of affection and love for her new mistress? Or is she blackened to the core with no chance of redemption?
‘I certainly wish I had been able to do more for Lady Glyde, dear Lady Glyde. Hindsight affords us a deaf reality that was present at the time’ – Mrs.Michelson
A special mention for Charles Dance who perfectly plays the frail hypochondriac, Frederick Fairlie. You will love to hate him by the end of the series. He is a guardian for both sisters, but we don’t see the affection that you would expect reflected in his choice of a groom for Laura, the mercurial Sir Percival Glyde. Everything that precedes after the wedding could be blamed on him and the choices he made for his nieces.
Now for the things which didn’t resonate with me as much. The miniseries wasn’t always accurate to the time period which reflected in the clothes and in some parts the language used within the show. A lot of modern-day linguistics and sentences are used. That irked me as I am a period drama snob. Other viewers may easily overlook that as the series is intelligently adapted.
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH IT
The Woman in White is a compelling show to watch. But aside from the gripping secrecy behind closed doors, it does show important themes which are relevant at the moment including aspects of domestic abuse and coercive control. Overall, I would say this is a must watch if you love to sink your teeth into a mystery drama with fiendish characters you will despise and an array of female characters that emulate the different positions women had in the society of the 19th century.
Content note: This series is rated TV-14, though the content is mild. The few scenes of violence are not explicit.
Where to Watch: The Woman in White currently airs on PBS. You can also stream on the PBS app, rent/buy on Amazon Prime or on DVD.
Have you seen The Woman in White? Are you watching now? Share your thoughts and comments below!
Photo Credit for Featured Image: Courtesy of The Woman in White Productions Ltd. / Steffan Hill / Origin Pictures
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