Victorian Woman in Prison
Affinity: 6 out of 10: is a 2008 British drama film directed by Tim Fywell, based on the novel of the same name by Sarah Waters. The story is set in the 19th century and revolves around themes of love, secrets, and the supernatural.
In Victorian-era London, the film follows the life of Margaret Prior (played by Anna Madeley), a young woman who is struggling with a recent tragedy and the constraints of her oppressive family. To escape her emotional turmoil, she becomes a volunteer at Millbank Prison, a women’s penitentiary. Margaret’s motives for this choice are ambiguous, but she hopes to find a sense of purpose and perhaps ease her own suffering by helping others.
Inside the dark and foreboding prison, Margaret becomes entranced by one of the inmates, Selina Dawes (played by Zoe Tapper), a captivating, enigmatic, and seemingly haunted woman. Selina has been convicted of assaulting a young girl during a séance and is known for her spiritualist abilities. Margaret becomes obsessed with Selina, believing she might be the key to her own salvation.
As Margaret delves deeper into Selina’s world, she uncovers a web of secrets and mysteries surrounding the prison and the women held within its walls. She finds herself drawn into a forbidden and passionate affair with Selina, raising questions about her own desires and the boundaries of love and propriety in the repressive Victorian society.
“Affinity” weaves a tale of love, betrayal, and the supernatural as it explores the emotional and psychological depths of its characters, all set against the backdrop of a society struggling to reconcile its strict moral codes with the complexities of human nature. The film is a haunting and atmospheric exploration of the human heart’s capacity for darkness.
The Good: Well, let’s start with Zoë Tapper. She is brilliant as the seductress prisoner. Despite dressing in prison rags with a boy’s haircut, she screams sexuality and passion in every scene. Oh, she can turn that off and become the most villainous of creatures, like flicking a switch. Outstanding performance is well worth the watch.
Outside of Miss Tapper, the genuine star of the movie has to be the story, however. We have three rapes (two lesbian one not), lesbian seduction, age gap seduction, drug use, suicide, woman in prison, mysticism, bondage, and old-fashioned banking.
Affinity is a great tale and a wild ride. Unfortunately, it is a great story despite the filmmakers, not because of them.
The Bad: You know, for a Victorian jail cell Zoë Tapper’s digs are pretty good. I mean, she has a decently large cell all to herself and privacy when her lady friend comes a calling. Plus, her sentence of, I believe, four years is pretty light for raping one girl and contributing to the death of another.
Meanwhile, poor little rich girl Anna Madeley did just lose her father, has a mother who is mean and makes her drink Laudanum, her girlfriend married her brother and her current fiance is a ginger creep. Still, despite all this thin lipped, Anna Medley is so self centered that it becomes difficult to have any sympathy for her.
But if there is a problem with Affinity, it is somewhere between director Tim Fywell and writer Andrew Davies. I suspect Tim Fywell since Davies has written both Bridget Jones adaptations, as well as being the creator of the British House of Cards. Davies knows how to add a little spice and spanking to an uptight British drama.
Unlike the fine folks at Movie House Commentary I am not saying Affinity should have been an out an out exploitation film. Though it would have made a fine one. But it almost seems that the filmmakers thought they were dealing with a serious piece of lesbian literature and were cautious to include anything that may attract or titillate the male gaze (or the female, for that matter).
This is not a serious lesbian romance. In reality, this is not a romance at all. It is a pulpy crime thiller and tragedy that takes place during Victorian times. It may appear to be a filmed play or a serious British drama, but that should be the tool to lull you to sleep for all the wackiness to come. Unfortunately, while Affinity shows the wackiness, it never seems to embrace it.
The Ugly: Okay, I watched two movies this weekend that both suffered from endings that undercut the most dramatic parts of the film. For Renfield, it didn’t ruin the movie. Renfield is a horror comedy and the cop out, while still disappointing, matches the tone of the rest of the film.
The ending of Affinity on the other hand, literally contradicts what just came before (What one might call the real ending). Not to give too much away (though spoilers are afoot like most of my reviews) it shows our two lovers in an embrace underwater for a pretty good length of time. So long, in fact, it seems right out of The Shape of Water.
The problem is they were not lovers. That was the point of the movie. One was a depressed, driftless and somewhat spoiled lesbian yearning for her previous lover (Who left her for her brother). And the other was an outright predator, both a con artist and a rapist of young virgin girls.
The story of Affinity is one of predator and prey. Director Tim Fywell seems either unwilling or unable to acknowledge this. So we have this bizarre scene at the end, which makes no sense considering who the characters are. And also since we know all the spiritualism was fake makes no sense from that point of view either. It manages to undercut the story in two separate ways.
In Conclusion: I am going to check out Sarah Waters novel of the same name that Affinity is adapted from. I really do like this story. The story and Zoë Tapper are enough to let me give Affinity a light recommendation. But I can’t help but think this was a missed opportunity.