Monday, October 29, 2012

Rough in the Diamond

Melodramatic Mondays

A wealthy client offers Belle the opportunity to leave her agency behind in favor of life as an international courtesan, leading to a grueling interview process as well as a number of difficult decisions.

The review for "Passion, Reignited" can be read here.

Considering Hannah's (Billie Piper) dislike for Belle's all-nighters during her girlfriend-experience with Ash (Ace Bhatti,) it's strange that she would consider life as a courtesan. She grew so incredibly bored on the one night she spent with Ash that she found herself in the arms of another man simply to have something to do, so living a life where she would play house with someone for days on end seems like exactly the opposite of anything she might want. Sex is the only portion of the job she enjoys, and it's questionable whether she would be able to entertain her clients beyond that.

It's rare for this series to focus on Hannah's life as Hannah outside of her experiences as Belle, and her discussion with her mother (Toyah Willcox) is a breath of fresh air. Hannah's mother complains that she doesn't know Hannah's world at all, and has connected more to Hannah's sister because of that fact. She desperately wants to know her daughter better, and can't understand the front that her child has erected, though the audience completely understands why Hannah can't let her mother in. What's most affecting is her comment that Hannah has always belonged to her father (Stuart Organ,) a fact that both women think on for a moment, but neither can deny. In Hannah's interactions with her father it's clear that she feels a deeper connection to him, possibly because he's the type that wouldn't pry and ask personal questions of her.

It makes absolute sense that, in the end, Hannah/Belle would choose life as an independent escort, and the reasoning she gives is perfect: she likes short appointments and doesn't enjoy living as a paid wife. As a courtesan she was being forced to live a life that was not her own, unable to enjoy the money she was making because she was waiting on someone else, essentially trapping herself in a situation with very little control.

Though she was understandably upset with Stephanie (Cherie Lunghi) in the past, I think it was a mistake for Hannah/Belle to have burned bridges with her former madam the way that she did. There's something to be said about keeping doors open for yourself, and Hannah had no idea whether or not her new pursuit would work out for her. Considering the poor reviews she had gotten in the past, and the influence that Stephanie claims to have, Hannah should have been more concerned that Stephanie would bad mouth her to people, as many of their clients seem to overlap. One can never have too many friends, no matter the business, and to purposely make an enemy is just poor planning.

Hannah's utter boredom when left alone at Mitchell's (Colin Salmon) lodge harkens back to her overnight stay with Ash, clearly something that happens frequently to her in these types of situations. Her inability to stay still when found in these moments is an intrinsic part of her personality, something that she should well have been aware of coming into this job. Also aware of this should be Ben (Iddo Goldberg) who claims that she's trying to tear apart his relationship with his fiancée when she calls him over simply because she's bored. Hannah has never appeared to say anything negative about Vanessa before, at least not in the context of this series, and for Ben to claim that she's stirring trouble on purpose is to ignore that fact. Hannah did, however, prove herself too demanding for her job, and the same might also be true for her relationship with Ben, which seems to have created a toxic environment wherein they can't be together but also cannot be apart.

Piper and Salmon have a good chemistry with one another, playing against one another quite well in every scene they meet, from Belle teasing him about the word 'class' to his irritation with the games she plays when he's trying to get work done. Willcox is wasted as Hannah's mother, appearing only briefly, but leaves an impact, showcasing how much she wishes she could reach out to her daughter but unsure of how to do so.
Susan Tully spends a lot of the focus of this episode explaining the difference between being a courtesan and being a prostitute, stating that it's more about the woman than the man, at this level, and that, as a genuine companion, the greater amount of knowledge Hannah/Belle gains the better. The photographs, too, are different, as those who wear more clothes are more expensive. Hannah/Belle is now completely in charge of her clients, sifting through them to judge their spelling and grammar, talking with some and setting up more formal interviews with those she likes. As a prostitute, Belle saw any number of clients in a week, but as a courtesan she is to see no more than four, as the fewer she sees the more prestigious she appears. Even when she's with Mitchell it is he who is bathing her, he who is pleasing her sexually, and only once do we see her make an attempt to satisfy his desires. Tully spends so much time on separating Hannah's new job from her old one that a few discrepancies slip through, most notably Hannah's picture on the internet; previously she had wanted to add more pixels to her image to conceal her identity, but here the image remains unaltered and she's not bothered by this fact in the slightest.

Written by Lucy Prebble, Hannah's interview to be a courtesan is alarmingly similar to her interview to join Stephanie's agency. The courtesans claim to be a sisterhood, stating that they will do whatever they can to ensure Hannah's safety and that they are all friends, though these are the same promises that Stephanie had made, too, and, in the end, she was putting Hannah into a number of dangerous situations. One of Hannah's main concerns throughout the series is the degree to which she has disengaged with other people, and here she puts herself into an occupation wherein she will become even more withdrawn from those in her life, seeming to make the wrong choice for herself at almost every turn. What's most admirable about Hannah as a character is her ability to recognize her mistakes and take the necessary steps to make herself happy once more, and she does exactly that in choosing to leave the life of a courtesan behind. Ben, too, makes a similar decision when he realizes that he was only marrying Vanessa because he couldn't marry Hannah, and now that he knows her also as Belle, he has no desire to marry either of them.

Ben's claim that he's uninterested in having a future with Hannah seems dependent on whether or not she maintains her lifestyle as Belle. Hannah/Belle's future struggles with being an independent escort may also lead her back to working under a madam.

The overview for Series 01 can be read here, and the review for "Tabloid Journalism" can be read here.


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