Not as chilling as it could have been but has its moments
While cataloguing the library of Barchester cathedral, Dr Black comes across the personal diary of Archdeacon Haynes among the rather lacklustre and poorly maintained books. Black reads about how Haynes rose to the position of Archdeacon when his predecessor, the elderly Pulteney, took a fatal fall in his home. The diary tells of admin and clerical responsibilities but gradually the personal musings of Haynes about noises, feelings and other impressions that Haynes starts to have about his new home.
As well as many other strengths, BBC4 recently also provided an opportunity to dip back into some old versions of ghost stories made back in the seventies, adapting the writing of MR James. Of what I have seen of the series, The Stalls of Barchester is pretty good despite not being as creepy as I would have liked. The story itself offers creepy moments without ever totally revealing itself and in this regard I did find it quite engaging, however the delivery doesn't work to the favour of these moments. The story is told in retrospect via the reading of Dr Black and this technique does rather distance the viewer from the material because, instead of being with Haynes, we are actually with Black. This doesn't matter too much when the Haynes scenes are longer and run together but Black does fragment the telling and, despite bookending the story, Black is mostly remote from it.
The construction of the Haynes scenes is good though and the film does produce some genuinely creepy moments with minimal effects. Not brilliant perhaps, but still nicely creepy just a shame the rest of the delivery doesn't support it. The acting is solid in the key role; Hardy convinces in his increasing bewilderment and inability to accept what he is experiencing. Bennett, Barlow and others all fill in around him. Swift and Leighton are fine but the script keeping them away from the main story means their performances do likewise.
At heart this is a nice little ghost story with some effective chills but the structure and manner of delivery does rather prevent the viewer getting lost in it and also breaks up the flow. Worth seeing but there are much better similar films shown on BBC4 recently.
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