TBT: Fingersmith (2005)


June is LGBTQ Pride Month, so we’re featuring fabulous queer frock flicks each Thursday. Queer folks have always been part of human history, long before there were words to describe these identities and orientations. But now we can and will say GAY! (and LESBIAN! and TRANS! and BI! and QUEER!) proudly, whether or not others try to legislate or pray it away.


Another adaption of a Sarah Waters novel, Fingersmith (2005) is less of a queer story as it is a Victorian crime caper that happens to include a lesbian relationship by the by. Which is awesome! This is what authentic and accurate representation is all about — where people of various orientations, backgrounds, ethnicities, etc., all exist in the world and stories happen to them. The real world isn’t 100% heterosexual, white, cisgender, and able-bodied, so all the stories told on screen shouldn’t be either. Movies and TV shoes don’t need to be about the various differences because life doesn’t have to focus on that either.

There are two women at the center of this miniseries, Sue (Sally Hawkins), who’s raised in a poor part of London and lives as a fingersmith (thief), and Maud (Elaine Cassidy), an heiress who’s raised to be secretary to her book-fetishist uncle. They meet when Sue becomes Maud’s maid as part of a scheme to rob Maud of her fortune. Of course, Sue and Maud become friends, but that’s only one way the plot gets complicated. It’s full of fun twists and sharp performances all around. The story is told in two parts, first from Sue’s point of view, then from Maud’s, and if you haven’t seen it or read the book, it’s quite an entertaining trip.

The year is shown as 1861 in a calendar on the wall, and the costumes look to be appropriately late 1850s, on the cusp of 1860. Designer Susannah Buxton (Tipping the Velvet, among others) accurately shows a range of characters from various class levels and backgrounds. Since Susan is Maud’s maid, there are several dressing / undressing scenes, and the corsets, crinolines, and such look quite nice.

Fingersmith (2005)

Sue practices being a lady’s maid — all the correct clothing layers are included.

Fingersmith (2005)

Maud reads for her uncle & his associates. She’s wearing her “best” dress, which will be a plot point.

2005 Fingersmith

When she’s working as her uncle’s secretary or she’s painting, she wears less formal blouse-and-skirt combos.

Fingersmith (2005)
Fingersmith (2005)

Maud wears a loose dress / apron over her blouse and skirt while painting.

Fingersmith (2005)

This is later in the painting scene, so same outfit without the apron.

Fingersmith (2005)

Sue arrives at Maud’s house in this one dumpy outfit, until Maud starts sharing her clothes with Sue.

Fingersmith (2005)

Having a dance in lightweight print gowns.

2005 Fingersmith

Promo shot with Sue wearing Maud’s “best” dress.

Fingersmith (2005)

Sue is wearing the “best” dress, while Maud wears a second best.

Fingersmith (2005)
Fingersmith (2005)

Even though this is not Maud’s finest gown, it’s still much nicer than what the lower-class folks wear.

And yes, I’m aware that this novel was adapted for the screen again in 2016. Watch this space!



Have you seen this adaption of Fingersmith?


About the author

Trystan L. Bass

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A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. Her costuming adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also ran a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

9 Responses

  1. Coco

    The Korean film adaptation of the novel, “The Handmaiden” (2016), is really good.

  2. M.E. Lawrence

    I think “Fingersmith” was the first Waters novel I read, but I cannot remember seeing the film. The costumes and hair look very good–melting into the scenes, instead of screaming, “Mid-Victorian, viewers!”

  3. Susan Pola Staples

    It’s time to take it off my to watch list. Perfect month for it.

  4. Lauren C

    Please don’t use the word q*eer without censoring it. it is still a very bad slur in many parts of the US, especially for older LGBT+ people. I know you don’t mean any harm but it is very jarring and alienating. Please be mindful of the people who are triggered by these words, especially older gay and trans folks. Many gay people had this slur used against them during the AIDS crisis, and in some places it is still as bad as saying the “f” word.

    • Trystan L. Bass

      It’s 2022 & we in the LGBTQ community have long since reclaimed “queer” from being a slur. If you consider it such, that is your problem, not ours. I was called “dyke” “queer” & all kinds of things back in the ’80s, but I’m not going back in the closet, sorrynotsorry.

  5. Lily Lotus Rose

    Yes, I did see this version of Fingersmith, and I thought it was so compelling. I haven’t read the book yet, nor any other by Sarah Waters, and this post is only nudging me more to finally get around to reading it!

  6. Karen K.

    I loved this miniseries and the book as well, it’s still my favorite of Sarah Waters’ novels. It wasn’t until much later that I realized it’s actually a reworking of The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. Also loved the Korean adaptation which also has great costumes.