One can only marvel at the workings of writer Sarah Water’s mind after watching Affinity, the newly premiered screen adaptation of her second novel.
There’s mystery, darkness and romance in Affinity, all set within the grimmest of settings — a women’s prison in turn-of-the-century London. The combination of the occult and forbidden love makes for a tale of suspense, intrigue and lust.
But Water’s is known for her brilliantly spun lesbian novels. This is the third screen adaptation, the previous two being Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith.
In Affinity the tale is far from simple. Margaret Prior, a young upper class academic chooses to invest her wounded heart in visiting prisoners at London’s roughest women’s penitentiary, Millbank Prison. There she meets the beautiful, headstrong mystic, Selina Dawes. Finding Selina deeply compelling, Margaret grows to believe in her spiritual powers, and her innocence in the crime for which she was convicted. As their relationship becomes entangled and open with desire, Selina and Margaret devise a heart wrenching plan to escape.
A complex and unique tale indeed, but in Affinity the deft storytelling is simply the beginning. This is one of those rare moments where the film adds layers of colour to the original novel. In this case, the poetic script and the interesting choices in the cinematography art deftly handled by director Tim Fywell. The jumpy movements of handheld cameras elicits feelings of nervousness and fear felt by the characters together while the incredible use of limited light — subdued or dark with brilliant beams through small windows — illuminates beauty in the darkest corners.
But in the end, it all comes down to the performances of the two lead actresses, Zoe Tapper as Selina and Anna Madely as Margaret. Though not household names, these talented actresses offer subtle, understated but electrifying performances. The chemistry between them is gripping and beautiful. For this alone, Affinity is worth seeing.