Film name: Crimson Peak
Release date: 2015
Genres: Horror (gothic), costume drama
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Script: Guillermo del Toro, Matthew Robbins
Studio: Universal Pictures
Length: 119 minutes
I’ve been a fan of Jessica Chastain since I saw her in Murder on the Orient Express, and Mia Wasikowska did a fabulous job in Jane Eyre, so when I saw that they had acted together in Crimson Peak I couldn’t wait to see the film.
Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) is a fledgling writer with a rich father. Just as the Victorian era is coming to a close (1901), she falls prey to fortune hunter Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston).
Thomas lives with his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) in the family’s ancestral home in northern England. Edith marries him immediately after her father is murdered by a mysterious figure in black. Her father has already bribed Thomas to leave Edith alone, so this murder is suspiciously convenient for the Sharpes.
The Sharpes have fallen on hard times. Thomas’s interest in exploiting the mines immediately below their house mean that it is also slowly collapsing in on itself as the digging has compromised its structural integrity.
Thomas attempts to conceal the mercenary nature of his interest in Edith, but the feel is a sinister one from the start and the revelation of the gothic nature of his home comes as little surprise. The house is known as Crimson Peak because scarlet clay deposits bubble out of the ground in liquid form and stain the land.
Lucille’s resistance to her brother’s marriage is foreshadowed even before she leaves America, but it truly comes into its own when Thomas and Edith return from their wedding journey to live at Crimson Peak. Her jealousy and possessiveness are no longer restrained, and she tries everything to prevent her brother from falling in love with his new wife.
Edith’s health deteriorates, and she begins to cough up blood. Ghostly visions of a bloody woman torment her at night. Remembering her dead mother’s spectral warning to beware of Crimson Peak only now that it is almost too late, Edith searches the house. She finds disturbing evidence of Thomas’s previous relationships and of her predecessors’ destiny.
Jessica Chastain’s portrayal of a violent incestuous sibling was superb. The complex character of Lucille was delicately balanced with Edith’s intelligence and resilience as portrayed by Mia Wasikowska.
Crimson Peak was all about the relationships between women. We discover that Lucille murdered her mother at the age of fourteen. It is the ghostly figure of Edith’s mother-in-law who appears to warn the new bride of just how much danger she is in. Interactions between women who are born into or marry into the Sharpe family are central to the film. Edith’s bravery in reaching out to the ghosts of Thomas’s dead wives, asking them what they want from her, provides a turning point.
The men in Crimson Peak are lightly sketched. A doting father, a loyal childhood friend and the villainous Thomas don’t intrude upon the complexity of the women’s characters. We need that space to understand the three dead wives and dead mother (all previous Lady Sharpes, just as Edith is the current holder of the title).
On the other hand, this invites us to blame Lucille more than her brother even though both are full participants in what has taken place. I was determined to resist that and remember that Thomas, although a minor figure in the film, is every bit as much to blame as his sister.
The true star of the film was Crimson Peak itself. I’ve never seen a set quite like it.
There were moments when I almost suspended disbelief and imagined that the house was real and this was location filming.
The collapsed roof means that snow falls directly into the cavernous entrance hall. The broken windows allow damp to enter into every corner of the house.
The whole place is creaking and about to collapse. The set was a masterpiece.
I enjoyed every moment of Crimson Peak. A very effective gothic feel came from the set, and the ghostly element was very evocative.
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