When a teenaged girl moves to England, with her brothers and parents into the ancient Canterville Hall, she's not at all happy. Especially as there's a ghost and a mysterious re-appearing bloodstain on the hearth. She campaigns to go back home, and her dad, believing the ghost's pranks are Ginny's, is ready to send her back. But then Ginny actually meets the elusive 17th-century Sir Simon de Canterville (not to mention the cute teenaged duke next door), and she sets her hand to the task of freeing Sir Simon from his curse. Written by
Virginia 'Ginny' Otis:
When a gentle girl can win a prayer from out the lips of sin/when a child gives up tears and the barren almond bears/when the silent chapel bell sounds the ghostly sinners knell/then shall all the house be still, and peace shall come to Canterville.
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Oscar Wilde's short story is here updated and given a glossy makeover in this American TV movie co-produced by lead actor Patrick Stewart. Wilde's tale is tweaked somewhat, no doubt for modern consumption, but the story of the lamenting ghost, behind whose bluster lies a desire for redemption and eternal rest still comes through in what was a pleasant and watchable piece of family entertainment.
Making good use of its Knebworth House location and employing the services of veteran English supporting actors Joan Sims and Donald Sinden as housekeeper Mrs Umney and her husband, these fustian, traditional components, along with the stentorian, Shakespeare-quoting Stewart as the ghost himself, contrast nicely with the brash youth of Mr & Mrs Otis and their young children. I might have wished for a scarier ghost and better special effects but I guess a TV movie budget is somewhat less than for a full cinematic release.
As is usual in tales of this type, there's always one disbelieving sceptic, in this case the father, Mr Otis, who for good measure appears to have seen his relationship with oldest daughter Virginia become strained as she gets older, the situation for the latter exacerbated by the family's move to England from America.
After initially encountering Stewart's ghost with to be fair, not much fear and trepidation, the children man (and woman) up enough for Virginia to bond with it and by the end lead it to peace and the expected happy ending. The device of trying to convince the father of the ghost's existence by means of the daughter and Stewart recreating Hamlet's father's ghost scene seems a bit far-fetched for modern audiences, even whilst I appreciate it is in the book. Neve Campbell does well in her scenes with Stewart depicting a young teenage girl's blossoming into womanhood, aided conveniently by the appearance of a neighbouring handsome young lord.
Purists may criticise some of the liberties taken with Wilde's original story, but sufficient respect I believe is paid in what was for me a sprightly and warming retelling of a nice old tale.
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