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This 18th-century tale of passion, deceit and game-playing in pre-revolutionary Paris gets a fresh twist, as the origin stories of its central characters are told.
While Glenn Close and John Malkovich portrayed the Marquise de Merteuil and Vicomte de Valmont in the 1988 movie – based on Christopher Hampton’s play, adapted from the French novel by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos – Ratched’s Alice Englert and Glitch star Nicholas Denton play their younger selves. Unfolding over eight episodes, the story reveals how Camille, working in a brothel to repay a debt, and map-maker Pascal, disinherited by his father, became such callous schemers, manipulating innocent targets on a whim.
Episode one lays the foundations of a deep love between the pair, soulmates who are unable to marry because they’re penniless. But in a parallel life, Pascal keeps a string of mistresses he hopes to milk for financial gain, including Florence de Regnier (Paloma Faith) and an aristocrat played by Lesley Manville, who he’s blackmailing with the indiscreet love letters she’s penned.
He claims it’s purely a means to an end – a life with Camille – but how will she react when his betrayal is revealed?
‘I watched the film when I was a teenager, and then I read the book because it really affected me. I loved it, although it felt kind of ghastly,’ explains Alice, who is the daughter of director Jane Campion. ‘What drew us to the characters was that they are unlikeable. It’s fantastic to be able to explore that.’
‘There’s a really devious, acidic, dangerous element to this story, but we uncover a deep trauma in the character,’ adds Nicholas of his alter ego. ‘Most people will know the evil nature of these individuals from the film, as well as the play and book, but we get to understand why they are the way they are.’