“It’s … a curious … wanting thing.”
The grand schemes of a young Victorian era fingersmith (pickpocket/thief) quickly unravel when she falls in love with her target, a sheltered secretary sequestered away in the English countryside by her deviant uncle.
Based on the critically acclaimed novel of the same name by Sarah Waters, Fingersmith is a BBC One production directed by Aisling Walsh, starring Sally Hawkins as Sue, Elaine Cassidy as Maud Lilly, Imelda Staunton as Mrs. Sucksby, Rupert Evans as Richard ‘Gentleman’ Rivers, and Charles Dance as Uncle Lilly. Fingersmith original aired in 2005 as a two-part television series on BBC One.
The plot of Fingersmith is dark and tepidly thrilling. It’s tepid in that, like most things seated in the Victorian era, much of what’s going on happens in the subtext of the story and you are made to wait for the good bits to unfold. Lucky for you, Fingersmith is worth the time spent.
The premise is that a group of London-based thieves, known then as fingersmiths, have devised a plot to swindle £30,000 from a young heiress residing in the English countryside. Now, £30,000 is nothing to sneeze at – converted to today’s currency, you’re looking at a sum in excess of £2M!
I think it’s helpful to keep this in mind while watching Sue (Hawkins) and Gentleman (Evans) try to pull one over on Maud (Cassidy). I mean, after all, if we’re honest, people would probably go to this and more extreme lengths today for that kind of money. Consider then the appeal of that kind of cash in Victorian-era London where Sue and Gentlemen live in squalor.
The premise set then by author Sarah Waters is inescapably tantalizing for Sue who agrees to be installed as Maud’s maid. Gentleman’s plan is to woo Maud into marriage – the only way her fortune will be released to her in full. After the wedding, he will see to it his new bride is thrown into a madhouse, never to be seen or heard from again.
For her trouble, Gentleman promises Sue £3,000 (adjusted to today: £200+ K). In return, Sue must be a flexible and understanding maid, willing to leave the young woman alone with him … at least long enough for him to pop the question.
What could possibly go wrong?
How about everything?
As Sue begins to gain Maud’s trust, the two grow closer until, on her wedding night, Maud asks Sue what Gentleman will expect of her, as a wife. It’s clear that the two have begun to feel things for each other – a dangerous, and potentially deadly, complication.
What works for Fingersmith is Peter Ransley’s solid adaptation of Waters’ rich and intricate novel. Ransley has managed to maintain the depth of the story, complete with its twists and turns, while presenting Fingersmith in a more linear fashion than the novel. He accomplishes this by setting the story apart into two distinct sections (part one and part two), each told through the perspective of either Sue or Maud.
My only true nitpick about Fingersmith is that you must trudge through so much to get so little. Yes, I’m referring to the relationship and scenes between Maud and Sue. The story – having been fashioned to take place in the mid-1800’s – is structured in a way that necessitates the couple being constantly intruded upon by Gentleman. This is my gripe with all Victorian-era happenings, in general, but it hasn’t yet stopped me from reading, watching, and generally enjoying anything even remotely to do with the time period. Fingersmith is no exception, thanks to the love and care the BBC has given to its production of the material.
Elaine Cassidy is seductive, absolutely riveting as Maud Lilly, the young heiress who has been put into her Uncle’s care only to turn into his secretary. In fact, the cast of Fingersmith boasts some serious acting heavyweights including Sally Hawkins and Charles Dance.
But it is Imelda Staunton whom I irrevocably associate with Fingersmith. Her performance as Mrs. Sucksby, a baby farmer who – may years before the current events of the story – put into motion the devious plan that serves as the underlying plot of the film, is emotionally raw, gritty. If you come for the love scenes in Fingersmith, you may find yourself staying around for Staunton’s performance.
And, for all the fans of the novel, Sarah Waters makes an Alfred Hitchcock style cameo appearance as a maid (see above photo).
(Click on image to enlarge)
BBC One Official Info: Fingersmith
Wiki facts: Fingersmith
Is Fingersmith rotten or fresh?
Watch or buy Fingersmith on Amazon
Buy and read the Sarah Waters book Fingersmith on Amazon