Novelist Sarah Waters’ alluring mix of Sapphic romance and supernatural-tinged mystery holds up in director Tim Fywell and scenarist Andrew Davies’ adaptation of “Affinity.” While some of the book’s leisurely atmospheric and narrative detail is inevitably lost in the transfer to 90 brisk minutes that definitely feel telepic-ish, strong performances and an absorbing storyline make this a satisfactory costumer destined for solid niche cable and DVD sales.
In Victorian London, Margaret Prior (Anna Madeley) seeks some occupation of her own after the death of the scholar father she’d assisted, deciding she’ll pay charitable visits to a local women’s jail. Her mother can’t grasp why she’s disinterested in a suitor, or marriage in general — nor why she resents her brother “stealing” her best friend as bride. That reason becomes clearer as she develops a passionate interest in young prisoner Selina (Zoe Tapper). Sentenced for causing a patroness’s death, Selina claims innocence — saying it was her “spirit guide,” a menacing male apparition, who actually caused the woman’s heart attack.
Margaret quickly learns her new friend was indeed all the rage among thrill-seeking London parlors for her apparent ability to communicate with the dead. Strange, seemingly impossible occurrences in Margaret’s own home convince her the girl indeed has otherworldly powers — and that the two of them must find a way to escape the prison and England itself to share the Love That Dares Not Speak Its Name. The climactic turnabout which unravels that plan is likely to startle those not already clued in by the book.
Fywell and prolific longtime lit adaptor Davies (the latter about to be represented by the bigscreen “Brideshead Revisited”) do a solid job, despite a few heavyhanded moments and the limitations of a TV budget. Perfs are well-honed, though the sole major non-Brit thesp, Amanda Plummer, seems wasted in a less-than-key supporting role. The production manages decent period flavor, with the only off-key note occasionally sounded by camerawork that’s jittery and overbusy.