The BBC’s latest adaptation of Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White, which premieres on PBS stations across the U.S. on Sunday, Oct. 21, marks the 12th time the Victorian writer’s 1859 mystery novel has been adapted to the screen, and the third time it’s been adapted by the BBC.
Starring Jessie Buckley (Taboo) as heroine Marian Halcombe, Ben Hardy (Bohemian Rhapsody) as the young teacher Walter Hartright, Olivia Vinall (Where Hands Touch) as heiress Laura Fairlie, Dougray Scott (Mission: Impossible II) as villain Sir Percival Glyde and Charles Dance (Game of Thrones) as Mr. Frederick Fairlie, Laura and Marian’s uncle, the five-part series promises to treat Collins’ infuriatingly evergreen story of men’s destructive powers over women with clarity, simmering rage, and a surfeit of haunting visuals.
In the exclusive clip below, taken from the premiere’s very first minute, we see these qualities in action. Cutting from a tight shot of a woman in a white funeral shroud being closed up in a casket to another tight shot of the grief-stricken Marian Halcombe seeking justice from a Mr. Nash after the loss of her sister—her own face shrouded by a black mesh vail, her surroundings lost in darkness—the clip underscores the restrictions placed on women, often violently, by Victorian society. These restrictions become only more evident as Marian’s barely-maintained composure in the face of Mr. Nash’s possible disbelief in her case starts to be cut through with shot after shot of feverishly distressed women being physically restrained at a mysterious hospital.
“There’s nothing to suggest these men are guilty,” we hear Nash’s voice say, while the camera stays on Marian’s face.
“Of course they’re guilty!” Marian cuts in immediately, before launching into an impassioned mini-monologue that Buckley absolutely kills. “How is it men crush women time and time again and go unpunished? If men were held accountable they’d hang every hour of the day every day of the ye—” And here, her composure breaks enough that she has to cut herself off.
If this scene feels a little too spookily familiar to you right now, here on the heels of the first week of the Supreme Court’s October 2018 session: Exactly. There is a reason, a depressing and infuriating one, that this book has been adapted so many times in the century and a half since it was first published. But while our current infuriating moment is still playing out, Marian Halcombe’s, at least, has an ending. So stay angry, but at least look forward to that.
The Woman in White premieres Sunday, Oct. 21 at 10 p.m. on PBS. Check your local listings.
Alexis Gunderson is a TV critic whose writing has appeared on Forever Young Adult, Screener, and Birth.Movies.Death. She’ll go ten rounds fighting for teens and intelligently executed genre fare to be taken seriously by pop culture. She can be found @AlexisKG.