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Belle de nuit

Secret Diary of a Call Girl on Showtime
By JUSTINE ELIAS  |  June 16, 2008

FIRECRACKER: But Belle is sometimes less Darling than My Little Pony.

In Secret Diary of Call Girl (Showtime, Mondays at 10:30 pm), the lady of the hour is Belle (real name Hannah). She is, as she introduces herself right up front, “a whore.” Or, if you please, “prostitute, call girl, escort, hooker, courtesan.” Belle confides to her new best friends — us — in her many to-the-camera asides: it’s “just a job, it’s not the real me.”

Who is she, and how did she start high-end hooking, rather than some other career? “I love money, and I love sex,” says the 27-year-old university graduate (politics, philosophy, and economics; she has a good mind, a posh flat, and no other income). “I’m not an addict of anything, except maybe of the fourth season of The West Wing. I’m just . . . really lazy.”

Hardly. Over eight half-hour episodes (bought from Britain’s ITV2), Secret Diary’s pace captures the brisk, bold-as-brass tone of the pseudonymous Belle de Jour’s popular blog and bestselling books. Where the literary Belle’s voice has been compared to Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders, the television version is more naive, even as she cruises from one £1000-and-up assignation to the next. As embodied by the delightful Billie Piper (best known to US audiences as plucky Rose Tyler, Dr. Who’s sidekick), Belle is a firecracker — and not just because she drops the f-bomb so often.

Episode #1 hit the ground fucking: Belle, already on the game, ricocheted between two johns. The sex scenes are frequent and generally playful. And, as in so many shopping-and-fucking extravaganzas, the costumes are a hoot. At times, Belle’s armor includes pastel warpaint and a floppy blond forelock. She’s less Julie Christie circa Darling than My Little Pony circa 1987. (Unfair? Wait till Belle, dressed in mock-equestrienne gear, surprises a client by saddling and straddling him. Tally-ho!)

More intriguing than the sex, though, is the way Belle’s trade forces you to think about the commerce of favors between men and women, about what happens before and after sex — with and without affection. Like Kenji Mizoguchi (Street of Shame, The Life of Oharu) and Lizzy Borden (Working Girls), Secret Diary presents an outlaw living beyond the rules. Belle can comment on the unsalted romantic lives of men and women. Shocked by a nasty on-line review, she muses on what johns, in general, want in the GFE — “girlfriend experience.” She smirks, “Not being moody and making them work out what’s wrong. The idea of being exclusive, being the only one.” Sure, Belle’s got it all figured out. That one little word — idea — will sting later on, when she gets dumped by a favorite client.

When Secret Diary captures the amiable, brassy, in-love-with-London tone of Belle’s books (deep-focus views of deserted Georgian streets), it’s tourist heaven. When it goes too far — underlining the disconnect between Belle and other women by showing a friend’s fiancée only from the neck down — it’s clangingly awful. (So is Belle, sometimes: “I don’t mind going down on other women, I just don’t like going out with them.”)

Belle paints prostitution as one more service job. What’s odd, though, is how few other women she encounters: no waitresses, no chambermaids, no female cabbies, few competing call girls. In her first book, Belle de Jour wrote of yearning for a career — politics? stocks? — where she’d be the only woman, the queen bee, among a crew of eligible attractive men. Now Showtime’s Belle is surrounded by men — barmen, custodians, taxi drivers — but she barely notices them. Hers is the age of lowered expectations. They also serve who only stand and wait.

  Topics: Television , Julie Christie , Billie Piper , Daniel Defoe ,  More more >
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