Fingersmith : A talented thief. Originally fingersmith meant anyone talented at using his/her fingers in any matter whatsoever. It evolved to mean someone talented at stealing. – Urban Dictionary
One of the two protagonists of this 2005 two-part BBC mini-series, based on Sarah Waters’ Man Booker Prize nominated novel of the same name, is a fingersmith.
Set in Victorian England, the film alternates between the dark and twisting alleys of Dickensian London and the gloomy Gothic mansions of English countryside – a perfect setting for the coming together of two young women brought up in just as contrasting circumstances.
Sue Trinder, brought up amongst pickpockets finds herself a part of an elaborate plan to defraud a young heiress, Maud Lilly, of her inheritance. Maud, orphaned very young was brought up by her uncle. A “scholar” Mr Lilly conducted nightly readings of pornographic literature in his library in which nobody but Maud could enter.
Sue comes to Briar, where Maud lives with her uncle to work as her maid, with the objective of befriending her and convincing her to accept the attentions of Richard Rivers, who plans to marry her and have her committed to an asylum so he can take her fortune. The conspiracy goes as planned, despite the love and affection that develop between the two young woman. But in a macabre twist, we find Sue committed to the asylum as Mrs. Rivers while Maud takes off to London with Mr. Rivers. Suffocated by her life in the dark mansion, Maud had actually struck a deal with Rivers to escape from her uncle.
The second part opens in Lant Street, London where we learn that the mastermind behind the plot was Mrs. Sucksby (Sue’s foster mother) and not really Rivers. The plot is revealed through a series of twists and turns, none of which can be foreseen. I was on edge through out the film, wondering what would happen next. Incredibly sensational, especially in its treatment of a lesbian relationship, the storyline is true in its representation of Victorian England drawing inspiration from Wilkie Collin’s “The Woman in White” and Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s “Lady Audley’s Secret.”
The novel v/s film debate often has me voting for the novel, but when it comes to a BBC adaptation it’s very difficult to choose. Having seen all the BBC adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels, I knew this would be an excellent film, but nothing prepared me for the sinister brilliance of the plot, brought out so wonderfully by the actors.
I am so glad my student lent me her copy of the film. (Have I not spoken of the perks of being a teacher?) It would have been a shame to miss the film.