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RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes
• Interview w/ cast and crew
• Bonus scene
“It’s like The Awakening with lesbians!”
Anna Madeley, Zoe Tapper, Amanda Plummer, Anna Massey.
Margaret Prior (Madeley), refined and closeted Victorian lesbian, is in a deep blue funk after being romantically rejected by her childhood friend. To occupy her time, she begins volunteering at a women’s prison, because nothing picks you up like being inside a 19th century jail. There Ms. Prior meets an inmate (inmaiden?), a young spirit medium named Selina Dawes, and falls for her like a ton of petticoats. Everything seems to be going swimmingly for the passionate pair, until—
Surprise! there are lesbians everywhere! And some of them move at cross-purposes to poor Ms. Prior…
“…and down there is where we keep the most erotic of our prisoners.”
There’s a pretty compelling struggle for power at the heart of Affinity, though it’s not a new one. It’s a sort of dilemma of the muzzled and powerless. When the majority of your life’s choices are made for you, what can you control? I’ve heard an anecdote about anorexia which suggested it manifested often in young women in the 19th century, whose sphere of influence was so limited that the only thing they could control was their intake of food, or lack thereof. If that story is fiction, it still gives an insight: even the powerless have things they can control, and they will do so.
Writers have, for more than a hundred years, found that basic premise strong enough to support novels, films, and short stories. As a result, the subtleties of the model are pretty well played-out. What’s more, many of them reach the same conclusion: The ultimate power an individual has over their life lies in the choice to end it. Suicide functions as more than an expression of hopelessness; it’s the last, grand middle-finger raised against powerlessness. Ness.
“Ashes! Ashes! Change yer pardner!”
I’m kind of bummed about suicide’s prevalence as a solution, and not only because of the nature of the beast. Suicide can be used as a powerful tool in fiction, but when it becomes a trope of this kind of drama it loses its power. When the characters in stories like Affinity make their final decisions they come too easily, almost as if relying on the audience’s experience to provide the context.
After-the-fact spoiler alert: Someone kills herself in Affinity.
Despite the conclusion being nothing of a surprise, the development of the arc prior at least sets itself a few steps apart from similar stories. For one, there’s a surprisingly suspenseful subplot regarding the reason for Dawes’ imprisonment, full of ghosties and ghoulies and long-legged beasties. The gullibility of Victorian society for any sort of otherworldly demonstration takes a few burns, and delivers a believable parallel to Ms. Prior’s own desire to be fooled.
Ha! Fooled you.
More importantly, Affinity follows Ms. Prior through a series of small victories, rather than subjecting her to an endless parade of defeats. It’s a simple twist on the formula, but it at least takes her to a decent height before pushing her from it. Ms. Prior experiments with the exertion of power, first in pursuit of Selina Dawes, and then in the forging of her life as a lesbian. Up until the final catastrophe, it usually pays off for her. So, instead of finding self-destruction the only outlet for her basic need to possess some control, she finds it the only one ultimately effective.
Somehow, I think that’s worse than the norm. Instead of closing on a tragic note, in which we sympathize for the powerless, Affinity takes a character who has grown into a strong and self-possessed woman and tosses her from a bridge. Not without reason, and not without effect, but it still feels like an ending of human invention than of human nature, moreso because lesbianism, ostensibly the largest of Ms. Prior’s many Achilles’ heels, is cast as a powerful force throughout the conclusion.
“Does the name ‘Rasputin’ mean anything to anyone here tonight?”
Affinity carries a respectable load on its shoulders for a made-for-cable movie, socially and sexually speaking. (Not that sexually.) Bizarre editing choices smash into the less dramatic moments, seemingly designed to inject some artificial tension, but other than that Logo delivers a solid melodrama which loses confidence only at the very end.
A bonus scene is included, though it’s nothing much to write home (or to you) about. The good stuff comes in the solid half-hour of behind-the-scenes interviews, which cover topics historical and modern, and feature a brief-if-interesting consideration of the novel on which the movie is based with writer Sarah Waters.