Back in the summer of 2020 I read The Confessions Of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins. It was a remarkably powerful and moving character portrait written with immense depth, also containing a forbidden romance and an intriguing murder mystery.
Frannie Langton herself has such a unique and sophisticated voice, and her strength as a character is what made the story so beguiling. As a slave sent to London in order to become a maid for a wealthy family, before falling in love with her mistress and going on trial suspected of a double murder, her experiences are raw and leave an impact.
If you would like to see my thoughts on the book, here is my review.
Anyway, I was extremely intrigued when I discovered that Sara Collins was adapting the book for a four-part television drama. It was a long wait, but the show finally premiered exclusively on the new ITVx streaming service in early December.
I watched the show over the course of the festive season, and overall I enjoyed it! Here are my detailed thoughts:
What I Liked
- Frannie’s narration. As stated above, Frannie’s narration – written in the second person – was the highlight of the book, and thankfully this translated very well to the adaptation. Karla-Simone Spence delivers the ongoing monologue really well; her voice carrying such weight and really bringing out the impact Frannie’s many unhappy experiences in life have had on her.
- The casting. Most of the actors seemed a very good fit for their roles. Karla-Simone Spence mostly carried herself impressively well in what was a demanding role as Frannie. Sophie Cookson is increasingly perfect as Madame, and Pooky Quesnel gives a suitably ‘love to hate’ performance as the unpleasant Mrs Linux.
Stephen Campbell-Moore also does a great job as George Benham even though he does not get enough screen time. As for some of the supporting cast, Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn and Jodhi May are excellent as Sal and Hepzibah respectively.
- The beginning of the romance. One of my main criticisms of the book is that the romance between Frannie and Madame faded after a promising start. On screen, the beginning was again very good as the chemistry between the two characters develops. I really liked the scenes where Madame becomes so enthralled by Frannie.
- The brilliant final episode. The first three episodes were all reasonably good, but it was the final one which truly elevated this series. It is so powerful with all the courtroom scenes and the culmination of Frannie’s relationship with Madame. I was transfixed by it, and this is where Karla-Simone Spence excels the most.
- The production values. I really liked how the period settings were brought to life, with the costumes and the visuals. While it was clearly not a seriously high-budget drama, there is a lot to enjoy here from a stylistic point of view.
- It handles serious and sensitive issues well. It goes without saying that this story covers a lot of very heavy topics, but just like the book, the screenplay successfully approaches these issues in a mature and eloquent way. This is enhanced by the quality of the cast.
- The scenes between Frannie and John Langton. There are many powerful moments here, and throughout these you can sense the scars that Frannie carries with her all the time. There is a memorable scene between her and Laddie in episode two, but the way she takes the fight back to the despicable John Langton is especially compelling.
- It is written by Sara Collins. Great to see that the author has adapted the book the television herself – makes it more authentic.
What Could Have Been Better
- The lack of a title sequence. All we got was the title of the show in elaborate font on a black background, which was rather underwhelming.
- Some of it felt rushed. The third episode was good to watch, but at the same time it did try to fit in a lot of things from the book in a short space of time and as a result, Madame’s descent into drug abuse felt a bit hurried and the character of Laddie was a tad underdeveloped, among other things.
- Not enough backstory. Though tragic, Frannie’s previous life in Jamaica is only referred to sporadically during the adaptation, while it has a very prominent part in the book. This means that when the flashbacks do occur, they do not quite have the same level of impact.
- Frannie’s lawyer has a less significant role. In the book, Frannie’s narration is her recounting events in the second person to her lawyer, Pettigrew. This is such a critical part of the book and that essence of Frannie addressing him with her monologue is lost in this show, to a certain extent.
A difficult book to adapt over the space of four 45-minute episodes, but I think Sara Collins does a very good job. It certainly has a lot of the power that the book exudes, and Karla-Simone Spence deserves a special mention for the strength with which she portrays Frannie. Overall, a good adaptation.
My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐