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Image of Crimson Petal and the White

Crossness Engines Trust in The Crimson Petal and the White

Date posted: 01.04.2011

The Crimson Petal and the White is a new four-part drama produced by Origin Pictures for BBC2 that lifts the lid on the darker side of Victorian London, revealing a world seething with vitality, sexuality, ambition and emotion.

The drama is adapted from Michel Faber's novel by acclaimed playwright and screenwriter Lucinda Coxon and directed by award-winning Marc Munden (The Devil's Whore, The Mark Of Cain). Several locations in the capital were transformed to recreate Victorian London, including the industrial grandeur of The Crossness Engines Trust in Abbey Wood, Bexley.

The Crimson Petal and the White tells the story of Sugar, an intelligent young prostitute who yearns for a better life away from the brothel she is attached to. Highly sought after, Sugar finds her only comfort in the secret novel she is writing in which a murderous prostitute takes revenge on her clients. However, things change for Sugar when she becomes the mistress of wealthy businessman William Rackham.

The cast include Romola Garai (Sugar), Chris O'Dowd (Rackham), Richard E. Grant (Doctor Curlew) and Gillian Anderson (brothel mistress Mrs Castaway).

When going into production, director Marc Munden was keen not to revisit locations that regularly double for Victorian London on screen. This presented the film's Location Manager, Charlie Thompson, with a tough, but not impossible, challenge.

Crossness Pumping Station, part of The Crossness Engines Trust, was sourced as an excellent authentic Victorian location which was also flexible. It not only acted as the interior and exterior of William Rackham's cosmetic factory, but also doubled as the interior of a London train station.

A wonder of Victorian construction, the Crossness Pumping Station was built by Sir Joseph Bazalgette in the 1860s and has undergone a major restoration project since 1987 to return the site to its Victorian glory.

The Beam Engine House is a Grade 1 Listed Industrial Building constructed in the Romanesque style, and features some of the most spectacular ornamental Victorian cast ironwork to be found in Britain today. It also contains the four original pumping engines, which remained in service until 1956.

The production benefitted from the magnificence of the existing structure, with Rackham's office built in the pillared interior space and period cosmetic manufacture items added to create the look of a Victorian perfume factory.

As a London train station, the versatile location - with the aid of lighting and SFX - was used to create a point-of-view shot of a steam train arriving onto a platform and characters exiting through a tunnel.

Thompson commented "filming at Crossness Pumping Station was a good experience and it certainly gave the production excellent on screen value."

While Peter Keasley, from The Crossness Engines Trust, recalls that although the building was used for a number of scenes the one that left a lasting impression "was when the main engine house served as a Rackham's perfume factory and was filled with sacks of freshly cut lavender and boxes of scented soaps, transforming the erstwhile sewage pumping station into the sweetest smelling garden."

The first episode of The Crimson Petal and the White airs on Wednesday 6 April on BBC 2 at 9pm.

For filming enquires at The Crossness Engines Trust contact Peter Keasley on 020 8311 3711/

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