Did we like it?
In a wonders-never-cease moment, ITV1 out-qualitied BBC1 in a head-to-head costume drama battle. While The 39 Steps was crass and full of crowd-pleasing effort, Affinity was intelligent and played down opportunities for sensationalism.
What was good about it?
• Andrew Davies came up with a faithful, near faultless adaptation of the Sarah Waters
Gothic ghost story/lesbian love story, delivering a simmering, unsalacious romance amid the repression and brutality of Victorian society. The whole story knitted together without any TV trickery, building slowly but surely all the way to a shock climax.
• The main cast members – Zoe Tapper (from the recent Survivors) kept her evil streak nicely hidden as we warmed to Selina Dawes, a young medium in Millbank prison for assaulting a girl during a séance; Anna Madeley as gentlewoman Margaret Prior kept her lesbian desires nicely hidden as she become a prison visitor and befriended Dawes.
• The weird world of spiritualism was never explored in a clichéd Scooby Doo way – this was dark, haunting, menacing and intriguing.
• There were no lesbian sex scenes and it didn’t seem that prudish censorship was the reason; rather, Davies was keen to explored the buttoned-up nature of Margaret’s desires. It was surprising that ITV allowed him to show that restraint; hopefully, it’s a sign of more intelligence pervading the ITV drama department.
What was bad about it?
• We don’t normally like happy ever after endings but would have been content if things had turned out well for Selina and Margaret. Instead, there was a terrible turn of events late on which took us by surprise and left us vowing to never trust kindly maids again.