I do so totally dig period pieces. Maybe it’s that impression some of us sense – that we were born too late, or hatched in a much later time period than we think we should’ve lived – that drives me to enjoy works that strive to capture a unique time and place other than our own Twentieth Century, but I feel it necessary to disclose that ‘affinity’ of mine fully. I also totally dig most science fiction films, and they too excel at creating whole new worlds out of cloth for audiences to marvel over, so maybe – just maybe – there is something to that whole “capturing time in a bottle” essence that fuels this particular fascination.
AFFINITY’s product packaging would have you believe this is a “splendidly spooky Victorian Gothic ghost story.” I don’t know what that reviewer from The Telegraph saw that I didn’t – sure, it effectively weaves some spiritual elements into the piece – but this is nothing more than a period romance that toys with supernatural elements. In fact, there isn’t a ghost in here at all.
Well, now I’m getting ahead of myself …
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the kind of person who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come’ – and why wouldn’t you be? – then read on …)
Margaret Prior (played by the lovely Anna Madeley) is part of the Victorian elite. Having recently lost her father to a prolonged illness, Margaret has decided to continue his work in the study of incarceration and becomes an “Official Visitor” to Millbank Prison. However, once inside those dreary walls, she suddenly finds herself captivated by inmate Selena Dawes (Zoe Tapper), a young recluse who others whisper has special gifts. Indeed, Margaret’s affections grow suddenly serious, and she finds herself torn between her duty to society and the desires of her heart, which is telling her to do something entirely improper for her era and upbringing.
Tim Fywell directs from a script by Andrew Davies (adapted from a novel by Sarah Waters), and, for all practical intents, everyone does about as well as can be suspected. At its core, AFFINITY is a tale of forbidden romance – Margaret harbored hardcore lesbian desires at a time when society found woman-on-woman action highly illegal – and, to its credit, the story really doesn’t hit the audience over the head with this. There are some hints early in the piece, but, all-in-all, the script allows the Margaret/Selena relationship to have a seemingly organic development that works just fine and with little controversy.
However, once the true guts of this story are revealed in the final act, then viewers might find themselves questioning just what they were showed and when they were shown it.
To its detriment, much of the legitimate characterization unfolds in various flashbacks, and, yes, both of the ladies have them. Margaret’s come with narration – like a tour guide, she takes the audience through each and every signpost necessary to understand both the journey and its destination – and this becomes a bit of a farce once you know ‘how’ this all ends. At that point, you find out that this story is little more than a Gothic shell game: while you were watching the middle, what really happened was under the other two shells. I couldn’t help but feeling a bit cheated by it all, but isn’t that part and parcel of the risk in running the big con?
Don’t get me wrong: I still enjoyed AFFINITY. It’s full of a wonderful atmosphere – one that points in one direction but never quite realistically gets there – and Madeley and Tapper’s work is stellar. In fact, they are the two main reasons why I stuck with this one all the way to its kinda/sorta twist of an ending – the big reveal is a bit of a letdown.
Much like the product packaging I pointed out, don’t believe everything you see. That’s the moral to this story.
AFFINITY (2008) is produced by Box TV, Cite-Amerique, and Castel Film Romania. DVD distribution is being handled by BFS Entertainment & Multimedia Limited. As for the technical specifications, there’s a modest amount of noticeable graininess in some of the film’s more darkly photographed sections, but I didn’t find it all that distracting, just worthy of a mention; sound quality is fairly solid consistently, though the accents made a few sentences difficult to hear. As is often the case when foreign releases find distribution on American shores, there are no special features to speak of.
RECOMMENDED. Methinks a fair number of folks are going to be pulled into AFFINITY believing the product packaging – that this is some Gothic ghost story – and nothing could really be further from the truth. Yes, there are elements of spirit-mediums worked into this romantic drama, but, otherwise, there isn’t even the tiniest bit of spookiness in here. However, if you’re willing to suspend some disbelief and enjoy what tale is here, then you’re likely to be rewarded; performances are solid, though some may be mildly put off by the piece’s avant garde sexual themes. (I wasn’t. Chicks in love with chicks? I can dig it.)
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at BFS Entertainment & Multimedia Limited provided me with a DVD copy of AFFINITY by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.