Film Review: Fanny Hill (2007)

Fanny Hill was directed by Andrew Davies. Yes, Andrew Davies, the director of BBC’s 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. But Fanny Hill is no P&P… this series is a Period Erotica.

I watched Fanny Hill, a two-part miniseries, because I was curious to see how Davies pulled off directing an adaptation of an 18th-century erotica. I read this book, and let me tell you guys a little about it before getting into the review.

John Cleland wrote Fanny Hill in prison, 1748. His work, one of the first English erotic novels, was banned for its obscenity. Curious, I picked up this book, not quite knowing what to expect—and discovered it to be an erotica that, even in the standards of contemporary erotic novels, would be considered explicit. For this reason, this book is still banned in some countries.

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The adaptation, on the other hand, was much tamer.

It’s about a naive country girl who is deceived into prostitution. She ends up quite enjoying the trade, though.

The only character I liked in this series was Mr. H, Fanny Hill’s second lover, who is an earl’s wealthy brother. At first, he doesn’t care that Fanny is still in love with her former sweetheart, Charles Standing. But Mr. H slowly begins to fall in love with Fanny.

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A romantic relationship blooms between them, as Mr. H teaches Fanny how to be a lady, by refining her Lancashire dialect, and teaching her the beauty of poetry. Soon, Mr. H is no longer satisfied with her body alone—he wants more—he desires her love.

However, she denies him this, and in a single misstep, Fanny sparks her lover’s jealous outrage. To her shock, he boots her out of his life, and she finds herself on the streets, destitute.

So Fanny goes to Mrs. Cole’s hat-shop, hoping to find a respectable position there—only to find that the hat shop is a façade for an upper-class whorehouse. Fanny decides that it will be in her best interest to work at a brothel again.

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The brothel turns into a home to Fanny. She becomes popular with the men, and this infuriates Esther Davies, another harlot.

Esther, in order to show Fanny who the more desirable woman is, takes up Mr. H as her lover. Fanny is completely unaware of this until she bumps into Mr. H at the brothel. Esther enters the scene and snakes her arm around Mr. H. Fanny becomes jealous.

However, little does Fanny know that Mr. H’s heart still belongs to her. . .

And little does she know that searching throughout London for her is her sweetheart, Charles. . .

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Did I enjoy this series? The answer is: Somewhat. I’m entertained by all things period drama. But I found myself skimming through this show. A lot. More than half of the show was comprised of sex scenes, one after the next. So there was little to no character/relationship development. I felt no sympathy for the characters—except Mr. H. The storyline was un-engaging. It all comes down to this: Fanny Hill is a trashy romance.

Still, this adaptation along with the book offers an interesting look into the English Underworld.

Period Drama Collection

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8 Comments

Filed under Book & Film

8 responses to “Film Review: Fanny Hill (2007)

  1. Thanks for posting this review–believe it or not, with all my love of the 18th century, I’ve neither read or seen Fanny Hill. I did read a *lot* of French 18th century libertine fiction–was a French major and took a course on it. Super interesting. Kind of embarassing to read though! And immediately cures one of thinking they were innocent back then. Whew. I joke with friends that *of course* they were into lots of sex back then–why, they didn’t have TV, what else did they do for fun?

    I’m sure that pirated editions made the rounds…in fact, that sounds like an excellent plot point for a future book, doesn’t it? Let’s see who gets there first 🙂

    Great post!

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    • Haha good point. There was little then (compared to how many sources of distraction we have now) for a gentleman to occupy himself with. While doing some research on prostitution in 19th century England, I encountered an interesting fact while studying the biography of a famous courtesan–There was actually a book written by some man that listed harlots, a description of them, and what sort of service they offered.

      You should check out Fanny Hill one day and tell me whether it is as obscene or less so, compared to the French Libertine fiction you studied.

      I AM very curious whether any respectable lady got her hands on one of the pirated edition. Perhaps she was searching for a book that offered enlightenment in her husband/brother/uncle’s Study and came across…Fanny Hill. It must have been horrifying as those ladies (especially the Victorians) knew so little of what goes on between a man and woman.–This would make an interesting storyline. You should auction this idea hhahaha

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  2. hmmmm o.O You should definitely add D.H. Lawrence’s “Lady Chatterly’s Lover” to your list of books to read… (By the way, I have purchased Beneath the Silent Moon *reading*)

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    • I watched the adaptation of Lady Chatterley’s Lover. I have the book as well but never found the chance to read it. But…I will have to read it one day to figure out which is the more explicit. But Lawrence’s work probably won’t be as obscene…I think…Well, all I know is that he deserves his literary merit, while the Clelend–no matter what the Introduction in the Penguin edition says to say it reflects upon the social condition of his time and what not–has NO literary merit. In my opinion. Totally debatable.

      Yay! I’m so curious to know what you think of Beneath the Silent Moon. If you say it’s good, I’ll buy it myself and give it a read. And tell me also whether you think WW would fit in under this genre. That is, if this book is any different from the mass marketed HRs

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  3. Kim

    I agree with you June, the only creditable character in the minseries was Mr. H. Fanny annoyed me just a little.

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    • Did you see the series before reading my review? Or after? Just curious.

      Agreed. Fanny his is rather annoying. The big issue I had with the book and adaptation was how she could give her body up so freely to men while still claiming to love her sweetheart. The way she used Mr. H. It really taints the harlot as one being a selfish, inconsiderate creature. I didn’t like that at all. But at least, in the adaptation, she learns the downside of harlotry.

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      • Kim

        I watched the series before* reading your review. I actually watched it with my sister…which was for obvious reasons an awkward experience. We both tended to giggle during the “scenes”.

        But yes, after watching it, I decided I didn’t like it. I wasn’t really satisfied how it all turned out in the end…(it was no North and South or Wuthering Heights, that’s for sure!)

        Have you seen Tristan + Isolde?

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      • Yay! I’m glad to know you watched it before my review. This coincidence makes me feel like there is some sort of affinity between us–(duh. June. the love of period dramas maybe?)

        I was about to watch it with my sister too. But she wasn’t home. That’s a good thing. I know how awkward it is to watch “those scenes”. My sister would turn read and cover her face. While I giggle.

        Oh. My. Goodness. The ending was horrible. I didn’t even like Charles. All he did was sleep with Fanny. We never got to know him really. It was a very shallow love story, I find. But then again. I don’t think the author of Fanny Hill aspired to write a Great Love Story.

        I did see Tristan and Isolde. I actually liked it–better than I thought I would. What a tear jerker…

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