Wow, that was kind of a long hiatus! (I made the last one in 1996, it looks like.) I know this has become something of a habit, like that time I tried to make a picspam of my French vacation and only got two-thirds of the way through, so if you are a literalist it looks like I never actually came home but am instead blogging from an attic somewhere overlooking the amusement park in Rouen. (Note to that person: well-spotted, mon frÃ¨re!)
But I have my act together now, and the time has come for another Catherine Cookson Experience!
Today’s is different from most of the others, because I genuinely love this one. It is a pulpy mess, and I enjoy every second of its cheesy glory. You will be able to tell this soon, but I thought I might as well warn you up front: this one is awesome, and I have the eight thousand photos to prove it! This is The Rag Nymph.
Era: 1850s, looks like.
Siblings that require looking-after: Well, initially Millie is the one who needs looking-after (when you were niiiiiiiine!).
Illegitimate (Self or sibling): It’s like a Law and Order episode; it takes you almost until the end to find out, and by then you don’t even care.
Asshole Father?: Oh, jeez. Every father in this thing is a total jerkbag.
Romantic interest(s): Mr. Bingley, Paul Atreides. Tough call!
Fistfights: Somebody knifes a pimp. It counts!
Assaults: Oh jeeeeeeeez.
Under here, more When You Were Nine goodness.
The Rag Nymph opens with Aggie, a rag-woman who lives in a Dickensian squalorhole.
When adorable moppet Millie is dumped on her lap completely by accident by Millie’s prostitute mother (she gets busted by the cops seconds later), Aggie takes Millie home, grumbling the whole time the way people have when you know they are just going to love that kid more than anything.
This is Ben! He’s supposed to be sixteen, even though he is played by the clearly-25 Paul Atreides, and he is thrilled to have a precocious kiddo with a posh accent show up at his house, because now he has a friend!
Since Millie is nine, I think we all know how Ben will end up feeling about Millie.
(The seduction begins!)
Young Millie, played by Perdita Weeks (who went on to impress me in the Sherlock Holmes movie with MICHAEL FASSBENDER in it), tries to adjust to the fact that her mom is in the big house and now she apparently lives with this gruff old lady and some dude who is already hitting on her.
I feel you, kid.
(Actually, I am not being fair. A lot of Ben’s character is that he’s stuck where he is because of the class into which he was born and his extremely mild hunchback, and he’s way too clever for this place, and he ends up becoming a teacher and blah blah blah, and he’s mostly just excited that this little girl has her grammar together and is someone else he can bounce jokes off of, because Aggie is an awesome guardian but she is not really up for lighthearted banter, either. So, for ONCE in all of Cookson, we have a guy who is only supposed to be about 6 years older than the heroine, and is not a complete creep about the whole thing. It’s still When You Were Nine, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a lot less creepy than any other time Cookson pulls this one out.)
And it’s just as well Ben and Millie get along, because her mom gets bail posted by this dude:
It doesn’t matter what his real name is, since he’s obviously Pimps McGee and that’s about all you need to know.
This is her mom hanging out in the brothel room for newcomers, which has a door that bolts only from the outside and no windows. About five seconds after this, Millie’s mom hangs herself, which I do not blame her for whatsoever.
Pimps McGee does blame her; in fact, he blames her so much he decides she owes him her daughter to make up for the expense of posting, like, six shillings of bail. (Pimps McGee: Modern Financier.)
So he makes a grab for Millie.
Millie and her stankface are not having that.
But it’s a scare for Aggie, who quickly goes through the paperwork to become Millie’s legal guardian (Aggie is no dummy) and then ships her off to a Catholic school out in the woods somewhere, which Aggie hates (things Aggie does not like: cops, Catholics, pimps, and Ben), but at least it’s hard for a pimp to wheedle his way into a convent, so.
But there’s one thing Aggie has not counted on: Millie is a Mary Sue. And nuns apparently do not like Mary Sues WHATSOEVER.
This nun accused her of blasphemy for embellishing a Biblical story, and chopped her hair off; Millie struck back and ended up slicing the nun’s hand open with the scissors. (Don’t fuck with Millie, I guess.)
Naturally, once you’ve gone West Side Story on a nun, your career in the convent is kind of over, and Millie comes home so that she can grow up and we can get this romantic plot started already. (SEVEN YEARS LATER. I’m telling you, Cookson is like clockwork with this stuff.)
Done! She’s 19th-century legal! Upgrade!
And Ben grew up, too!
…into Billy Ray Cyrus. (This wig is unforgivable. There is no excuse for it, and you can just see Alec Newman being like, “Just hang in there until that call comes back about Paul Atreides…just haaaaang tight…”)
By now, of course, he’s in love with Millie because she’s adorable and has all her teeth, and so he’s been trying to get an education and better himself mostly for his own peace of mind, but let’s face it, he’s a smitten kitten.
Aggie and Ben are both superprotective of Millie, given her past misadventures, especially since Pimps McGee has taken to snatching girls off the streets and then shipping them off to America and shit, so she basically doesn’t leave the house ever.
She still gets to party hearty, though, so that’s nice.
A letter comes from an old convent-school friend that her mother is looking for someone to take care of the horrible children, and Millie’s like, “Oh, you mean something outside the rag yard? DON’T MIND IF I DO.”
She tames them with her Mary Sue-ness, and teaches them to dance like complete idiots out in the middle of the woods. (What is WITH this girl and dancing?)
When she comes back for her equivalent to a weekend (which is probably three hours per fiscal quarter), Aggie asks her to get information out of Ben, who has started acting strange – dressing better, going out at night, staying in his room all day.
So Millie does. Unfortunately, she picks a bad moment.
Ben is really not happy to be seen this way.
(You know, this thing is a big pulp mess, I’m not going to deny it, but Honeysuckle Weeks and Alec Newman really have nice chemistry here, and this is about the part where I began to get invested in the story. Because I’m a nerd.)
He’s furious with her, and tries to laugh it off but it doesn’t work, and it visibly shakes Millie. So instead of being smooth about it, she launches into, “Aggie’s worried you’re seeing some woman!” Which I do not think Aggie was, so I suspect Millie is projecting a little here. Ben shoots that down with a little self-deprecating venom about how he’s not exactly a prize.
Millie is not thrilled with how this is going.
As she departs, Ben and his horrific hair watch her go with the Pine Level cranked to 11.
He looooooves heeeeeer.
And Aggie is not happy about it. Dun dun dunnnn!
Millie goes back to work for the holidays, and gets invited to the “Servants’ Party.” She wears a party dress. Turns out you are supposed to wear your servant outfit (which, being a governess, she’s never owned), and everyone at the party hates her guts, UNTIL:
Fuckin’ Mr. Bingley shows up out of nowhere and asks her to dance! This is great!
Except then his brother-in-law, the lord of the manor, also asks her to dance.
This is…markedly less great.
Then the jealous lady of the house has Milly and some other random girl summoned down to the basement library so her sons can rape them.
MARKEDLY LESS GREAT.
Luckily Mr. Bingley makes the big rescue before too much period clothing is torn, and carries her all the way home to Slovenlyville.
Everyone’s grateful for Bingley’s kind attentions except for Ben and his wig, who were practicing being on the cover of an 80s romance novel and are not happy to have been interrupted by some Regency jerk getting thoughts about Millie.
And thoughts Bingley has, because he’s like, “Why don’t you come take a look at my summer house?” And Millie’s like, “Oh, you mean something outside the rag yard? DON’T MIND IF I DO.”
So he takes her by Longbourn (that cheating jerk!), tells her he loves her, and lays the ol’ Bingley on her:
Meanwhile, Ben is pointing out that men who come from landed families do not pick up pretty orphan girls out of the streets to actually marry them. Aggie accuses him of being jealous, which is fair, but Ben is also correct, and the fight quickly escalates until Ben storms out of the house:
They’re tossing insults like it’s a parade, and finally as he disappears around the corner Aggie yells after him, “No amount of education will straighten that crooked back!” WAY HARSH, TAI.
At some point the next day this dude shows up:
He’s Millie’s dad, he’s a total creep, and he ends up in the river. (I told you by now you wouldn’t care!)
Moving on to subplots that are actually interesting, Millie wants to become a baker. No, for real, this is a big subplot. Oh, fine.
Okay, subplots that are REALLY actually interesting. Whenever Bingley comes over, Ben is really rude about the guy’s factory conditions in a way that has nothing to do with his actual factory conditions.
Millie and Ben fight around about whether or not Bingley is a duckweed. Millie seems to sense that something is up besides normal protectiveness, but Aggie’s always getting in the way in a very blurry and hard-to-screencap manner, so just know it happens. (Also, Aggie drops the dime on Ben, and Millie’s like, “But he’s known me since I was nine!” and Aggie is like, “…yeeeeeah.”)
Shortly thereafter, Bingley takes Millie back to his country house and is like, “I fixed it all up for you – best mistress’s house ever!”
Millie is surprised to hear the wrong M word coming out of Bingley’s mouth. In a bold move, she tells him to shove his house right up his hat and hits the road. (In a laugh out loud moment, she storms off and Bingley runs after her like, “Do you need – I’ll give a ride – so, no, you’re okay? Okay, I’ll call you!”)
Before she walks too far, a carriage comes by. This is great!
MARKEDLY LESS GREAT.
As Ben goes into Hero Mode, Millie is stashed away in the brothel prison.
Even Mrs. Lovett is no comfort.
Then Millie’s ‘client’ shows up, and it’s the perv-ass lord of the manor from before. (Yeeeeesh.)
Luckily, in a series of hard-to-screencap VHS blurs, Ben saves the day, kills the pimp, stabs the perv, and gets her out of there! (The one time in all of Cookson in which someone is actually responsible for a murder. In a normal Cookson, Ben would stab the pimp, and then the pimp would fall down the stairs and break his neck, and then a dog would eat his hand, and then a bucket of radium would fall into his mouth, and THEN he’d die.)
He gets stabbed in the process, though, and as he lies at home with Death Fever Millie’s like, “I think I love you!” and he’s like, “That’s very sweet, but if I live you’ll change your…” *hurk*
But of course he’s fine, and as he recovers he and Millie banter back and forth about how he pretends he’s not good enough for her but really he’s a complete ego-monster, which is cuter than it has a right to be. (I don’t know what to tell you.)
He’s still unsure about her love for him, and keeps promising that if some richer dude asks for her hand in marriage, he’ll get out of the way.
*knock knock* A richer dude! I bet they’re all so glad to see him after he didn’t make sure she was okay and she got kidnapped by a pimp and traumatized!
(Gotta love Aggie.)
Anyway, Bug-eyed Bingley in the background there has come to ask her to marry him, for real this time, and she’s like, “Oh, gosh, you just missed me, now I’m engaged to someone who doesn’t SUCK EGGS, sorry!”
Then she pulls one of these just to rub it in. Note how Ben is both completely awkward about the kiss and overwhelmed that she chose him. (N’aaaaw.)
Now that she’s made her choice having had actual options, though, he’s feeling quite a bit better about the whole thing, and as soon as they get inside for a little privacy, Millie and Ben and his hideous wig finally kiss. And it’s sweet. Except for the wig. (And the whenshewasnine.)
Then, because Aggie is awesome, she busts right into the middle of the kiss for no reason and makes a hilarious face, just because that’s how she rolls.
Five seconds after this picture was taken, she moves in to their place in the nicer part of town where Millie is a baker (I’m serious that was a subplot) and Ben is a teacher and Aggie basically gets to retire from the rag trade and reap the rewards of not letting nine-year-olds go to prison and/or become prostitutes.
THE END. Yeeesh.
Next time, I’m probably going to do an abridged version of several that are too dismal for their own entries, and then we’re in the home stretch!