This review contains spoilers.
Any retelling of a much-told story needs to justify its existence by answering ‘Why this again, and why now?’ Episode one of The Woman In White did that with spirit. Head tilted to one side and hand on hip, it widened its eyes and said, ‘A story about women being ill-used by men of status. Why now? Girl, please.’
Episode two gave a further answer: to bring us the joy of Jessie Buckley as Marian Halcombe. Buckley is terrific as Marian. Personality spills out of her, crashing over her Victorian syntax and making the character feel modern and vital. It helps that Marian is written as an aberration of the ideals of her sex and time (and that clever costuming makes her the antithesis of simpering elegance), but Buckley’s the magic ingredient. Her monologue on being “merely an observer of men” was fierce stuff.
The pain of episode two, in which Laura found herself cornered by convention and obedience into marrying a man who made her fear for her life, played out across Marian’s expressive face. This week was all about establishing the sisterly bond between the two women, and then showing the brutal way it was broken by the cunning, manipulative Sir Percival Glyde.
Dougray Scott is an imposing presence as Glyde. Performance details—the arm blocking Laura’s path, the irritably tapping foot that belies his benevolent façade when she threatens his plans by trying to release them from their bond—hint at the darkness within.
Not that the darkness without is much under wraps. This is Victorian melodrama after all, and Sir Percival, with his ominous cello score, wears the moustache of villainy like the best of them. Only next to the caricatured Count Fosco, a stock baddie whose skin-crawling attentions to Marian make you boo and hiss at the screen, does he seem plausible.
A villain needs a lair, and episode two delivered that with our introduction to Glyde’s foreboding Gothic mansion of Blackwater. Contrast its oppressive sombreness to the golden light of Laura’s bedroom at Limmeridge, where she and Marian have been allowed uncharacteristic freedom, and the symbolism is clear. Blackwater is a prison to Lady Glyde, a coffin even. Director Carl Tibbetts and co. gave us the full tour, seeking out every chilling detail and angle of the gloomy property.
Lightness is in Laura’s past now that Walter has been sent away. Last week’s romantic, youthful love story has been eclipsed by a marriage to a man she’s afraid of. Olivia Vinall already had her work cut out playing the dual roles of Laura and Anne, and now she’s capably juggling three – Laura pre and post-Glyde. She looked like a prisoner being led to the gallows in her wedding scene, then returned from honeymoon a changed woman, unable to refuse her husband his pleasure in her pain.
The non-linear chronology worked well to inject episode two with ominous foreboding and to keep up the pace. We watched as the bars steadily sprang up around Laura, who was powerless to free herself. Her uncle signed her life away to rid himself of the hassle of it all. Even her allies urged her to submit.
Gilmore especially fell back on the assurance of Sir Percival’s name as if his title equated to upstanding morality. After all, whose version of events is more likely to be believed – that of the status-less girl or that of the man of rank?
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode here.