Written by: Alyssa | October 23rd, 2015
Dazzling sets and profoundly gorgeous costumes by Kate Hawley. Hiddleston captures the essence of Rhett Butler with a Heathcliff subtext. Chastain walks off with every scene she’s in.
It’s Gothic glamor for our sensibilities. It’s infused with roiling sex. Guillermo del Toro delivers a setting that smolders in decaying decadence.
The story begins in 1901 in New York. The treasured young daughter of an American industrialist, Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) lost her mother at an early age. She is haunted by the frightening images of her mother. Why would her mother come back like Jeepers Creepers to scare the poor child?
Edith is pursuing a career as a writer while her widowed father, Carter Cushing (Jim Beaver), hopes his only child will make the perfect marriage with childhood friend, Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam).
The arrival of the dashing – and titled! – Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) and his provocatively seductive but strange older sister, Lady Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain), captures the attention of New York society. Sir Thomas has come to America seeking funding for a “clay harvester,” a mining machine he has built.
While society matrons are enchanted with Sir Thomas’s title and skill at dancing, Cushing is not so enamored with the contraption or his title. He sees the effect Sir Thomas has on virginal Edith and how he represents her ideal of the glamourous, writerly world of Lord Bryon and Mary Shelley. And Cushing sees that Dr. Alan’s devotion and sincerity are being overshadowed by a man with a title, a family estate, and a worldly charm.
Cushing and a group of potential investors dismiss Sir Thomas’s machine as not worthy of investment. Taking a particular dislike of Sir Thomas, Cushing insults him. Cushing notes that Sir Thomas has already failed to acquire funding in several European countries.
Sir Thomas asks for Edith’s help but she cannot dissuade her father’s absolute dislike for the man.
Edith is captivated by Sir Thomas’s attention and praise for her novel-in-progress. A society ball, with Sir Thomas dancing with Edith, seals the deal for her. Edith swoons and Sir Thomas shows off his upper-class accent and manners. Cushing can see that Sir Thomas has spellbound all the women present at the ball and he decides to have a detective uncover the history of the Sharpes.
Cushing demands that Sir Thomas cruelly break it off with Edith and leave America with his sister immediately.
The events that follow allow Edith to marry Sir Thomas and claim her position as Lady Sharpe and as the chatelaine of Allerdale Hall. A once-grand estate, Allerdale has been beset with devastating calamities. It is missing a roof and Edith is told to stay away from several lower floors and wings of the mansion. Edith’s money will fund the clay harvester and hopefully, when all Edith’s inheritance is finally transferred to England, repair the roof.
Winter will soon be coming and with it snow. Sir Thomas, Lady Edith, and Lady Lucille will be left alone in a warren of ravaged rooms filled with ghostly apparitions. With two Lady Sharpes and only one Sir Thomas, Edith tries to befriend Lucille, who seems uncomfortably close to her brother.
Lady Lucille is reassured that the marriage has not yet been consummated but a snowstorm that leaves Sir Thomas and Lady Edith spending the night in town, unhinges Lady Lucille. She lets her hair down – which is always a sign of impeding trouble in Gothic tales.
As with all Gothic tales, there are secrets, skeletons, incest, debauchery, elegant nightgowns, candelabras, a jangle of keys, and the constant brewing of tea.
CRIMSON PEAK does not attempt to be anything but a gothic horror tale. It does not reinvent the genre but does it justice. del Toro and co-screenwriter Matthew Robbins infuse the story with intelligence that permits the actors to play it straight – no one is embarrassing themselves.
In fact, the principals are all in. Hiddleston may have name recognition as Thor’s evil brother Loki, but his sexual charisma – showcased here – was also on display to great advantage in THE DEEP BLUE SEA (2011) and ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE (2013).
Chastain, as I already wrote, is haunting and when her hair comes down, the sexiest she has been. Wasikowska cleverly embodies a virgin eager to enter married life. Hunnam, who reigned as the SONS OF ANARCHY sex symbol for 6 years, dials it down to earnest suitor. Hunnam’s added weight in his early scenes suits the role but when he is called upon later in the film, has trimmed down. He’s still my choice for Christian Grey and once we hear his true English accent, should join the groaning list as a possible James Bond. He’s 35 compared to the constantly proposed Idris Elba, who at 43, is just too old for a 10-year, 3-picture commitment. The era of a 50-year-old James Bond has passed.
Victoria Alexander lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and answers every email at firstname.lastname@example.org.