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I like a good ghost story and this BBC dramatisation of a James Herbert
novel (which I've not read) made for entertaining if far-fetched
viewing. Spread over three hour-long episodes, I imagine gave the
serial time to stay closer to the novel and to be fair I didn't notice
a lot of unnecessary padding.
Set in two different time-frames, one set in the present day with a young family trying to get over the apparent loss of their beloved young son, the other telling the more interesting story of a sadistic brother and child-abusing sister who run an oxymoronic "safe home" for young evacuee children during the Second World War, whose methods are challenged by a game young teacher who comes into their employ. The two stories converge when the modern family unaccountably pick the spookiest house in the country to recuperate from their loss, with the mother and her two other young children apparently seeing and hearing the presence of the young children murdered 70 years ago and the former believing that the ghosts might be able to contact her missing son.
As I've indicated, it's probably best to pop a few massive coincidence pills in before watching and while some confusion inevitably enters the narrative, it coheres well enough to engage me through three Sundays in a row. The actors put the hokum across pretty well as a group with special mention going to Olivia Cooke as Nancy Linnet, the defiant young teacher who braves the dastardly brother and sister at risk of her own career and indeed life. Douglas Henshall also makes for a creepy "Whacko" villain, who fetishistically notes down every beating he gives out and demands one more victim in return for the one that got away.
The special effects were okay, more about suggestion which is usually the best way in programmes like this with no cliché unturned (subjective camera shots, pouring rain, dark sets, voluminous background music at key moments) and of course there's an impossible rescue of the daughter by her father, but if you're watching this as a study in realism then think again.
I've watched more realistic and scarier ghost stories than this but this twin-spook story engaged me reasonably even if at no stage was I tempted to hide behind my sofa or even peek through my fingers at any point during it.
The Secret of Crickley Hall
This ghost story from beyond the pond toggles regularly and frequently, without notice, across the pale between Then and Now. (Mixed idioms are intentional.)
Then is at a private orphanage in 1943 Devon, at a time when children were bused from London to escape The Blitz. Primeval's Douglas Henshall plays the evil headmaster.
We start out, however, in the Now. Mother ("Eve Caleigh", played by Suranne Jones) and her five-year old Son have a special, even psychic, connection. Son disappears from the playground when Mother falls momentarily asleep. Mother is disconsolate for months thereafter.
Approaching the one-year anniversary of Son's disappearance, Father ("Gabe Caleigh", played by Tom Ellis) gets a job out west (in the aforementioned Devon of the novel), and the family takes the opportunity to move, in hopes of escaping the sad memories at home. The house they choose is the now-abandoned orphanage of Then; and Now, of course, it's haunted by ghosts of children and staff who died in a long-ago "flood".
(The couple have two other children, both girls, one preschool; and the school bus which collects the older one for classes is labeled, "Manchester", per the location of filming.)
Once ensconced in the haunted house, Mother finds and reassembles a screw-driven toy top like one I had as a child, but mine was less fancy than the one used here and she uses it to reconnect psychically with her lost son, believing him to be still alive. From here, she employs extraordinary means to find him, beset all the while by Henshall's haunting.
This U.K. miniseries is an enjoyable Halloween treat, and I was happy to be able to watch the entire thing as a three-hour TV movie on BBC America the day before its scheduled U.K. broadcast.
(Note: This review is dated October 29 in my files, indicating the original scheduled airing in the U.K. It was not yet available for voting on IMDb then, hence my tardiness in submitting this review. December dates on previous reviews suggest that the U.K. presentation may have been delayed a month beyond the original scheduling.)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I saw the advert for this three part drama, based on the book by James Herbert (The Fog), and thought it looked like an interesting watch, and two or three recognisable faces in the cast, so eventually I started watching. Basically a year has passed since young Cam Caleigh (Elliot Kerley) went missing and life for his London based family has not been the same since, and with this anniversary coming up, and with a short contract in the North of England, mother and wife Eve (Suranne Jones) agrees with father and husband Gabe Caleigh (Tom Ellis) to move for a while, with teenage daughter Loren (Maisie Williams), to a house in the country. They arrive at Crickley Hall, a large estate past the village of Devil's Cleave, the family hopes the time away can heal their relationship and grieving, but it seems that the hall is not the right place to be, as it has a dark past and possibly unwanted inhabitants. Through flashbacks to 1943 we see Crickley Hall was formerly an orphanage run by Augustus Cribben (Douglas Henshall) and his sister Magda (Sarah Smart), but all the children living there lived in fear or the people running the place, especially Augustus because he was highly brutal beating many of them, and new tutor Nancy Linnet (Olivia Cooke) was appalled by it. Nancy tried to help the children get away from the abuse, and young Percy Judd (Iain De Caestecker) tried to help her as much as he could to stop it or report to the police or whatever, but she could have not have counted on a young man helping Augustus to murder her and throw her body down the well under the hall. Back in present day, the ghosts haunting the estate are causing Eve especially stress and paranoia; she believes the spirits are trying to tell her that Cam is still alive and she is desperate to find him at last, Gabe is obviously trying to convince her she is wrong, despite him and Loren encountering strange things themselves. We also see some of the people from or knowing about Crickley Hall at the time have grown older and are still living in the village, including former grounds keeper Percy Judd (David Warner) who still suffers the bad memories, psychic medium Lili Peel (Susan Lynch) who may be able to summon or talk to the spirits, elderly Magda (Annie Kelly) surviving sister of Augustus, and parapsychologist Gordon Pyke (Donald Sumpter) who is eventually revealed to be the boy who pushed Nancy down the well after her murder. The cast all do their parts well, with Jones being the typical female victim of trauma, Ellis being the sense of reason without any belief, and the appearance of The Omen star Warner is welcome, the story is interesting enough to keep you watching, I was hoping to be shocked or freaked out, but it was creepy certainly, and even though the son is discovered dead in the end there is still the tension before the final conclusion, an alright supernatural drama short series. Good!
STAR RATING: ***** Saturday Night **** Friday Night *** Friday Morning
** Sunday Night * Monday Morning
Gabe (Tom Ellis) and Eve Caleigh (Suranne Jones) re-locate to the West Country from London a year after the disappearance of their son. They set up home in Crickley Hall, an old residence that used to be a boarding house for evacuees during the war. But it is this fact that holds the secret behind some ghostly hauntings, and a terrifying truth behind what now possesses them.
It seems that in the case of a fairly lengthy novel, the format best favoured in many cases for adaptation is to turn it in to a serial drama rather than go all out and just make a feature length adaptation, which may test the viewer's endurance. But Joe Ahearne's approach, with his adaptation of James Herbert's The Secret of Crickley Hall, somehow manages to do this anyway, over the course of three episodes shown over three weeks.
There's no doubt the first part opens well, establishing an effective atmosphere and air of suspense, which even someone who's already read the novel and pretty much knows what is going to happen can see. But somehow, even by the second episode that AOS doesn't feel as strong. Spacing each episode out over the course of a week probably doesn't help, dragging it out too long and doing the opposite of keeping you in suspense. Aside from this, certain segments inevitably get lost in translation going from novel to film, and the constraints of being a TV film inevitably creep through. I said 'inevitably' twice in that sentence, and that's sadly what an adaptation of a novel is always going to be: an inevitability. Something that is doomed not to be as good as it's source material from the start, even if it has a bigger budget and goes to theatres, where I think this may have worked better.
The performances are probably the best thing in it. Jones shows promise she may be more than another ex Corrie actress, avoiding a future in panto or cheap reality shows, showing an emotional intensity and depth as a mother wrapped up in guilt for the loss of her boy. Ellis isn't bad, but somehow isn't quite as good, except in certain scenes where his character really gets dealt a heavy blow. Douglas Henshall has an undeniable presence as the villain, but his accent is so thick it's sometimes really hard to understand what he's saying. He's at his most unnerving in quieter, more subtle moments, like when he's holding the little boy over the well or is nearly caught whacking him with a cane in his private room.
It's all too well made and sincere to even verge in to Sunday Night territory, and even Herbert himself said he thought it was pretty good. If only the whole thing had stuck together more solidly, and not come off so naff compared to the book. ***
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I have read the book and this is the best adaptation of a James Herbert novel yet. The first episode is the scariest - lots of ghost story clichés, but they are effective. The music, the darkness, the doors, the well & the cane especially. The casting is perfect, especially Douglas Henshall as the insane Augustus & Sarah Smart as his cruel sister, Magda. There is a change to the ending. (Stefan dies horribly in the book, but in a way that is too offensive to show.)The couple coping with the loss of their child are sympathetic and your heart goes out to every young victim and their champions. While the cruelty and child loss scenes have been handled with care, some viewers may be upset. Be warned that there is a lot more of it in the book, plus nudity.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Now the series made many changes to the original book including minor ones such as the family dog was called Chester and not Clyde, but why change the ending so that Nancy fancies Augustus? She detests him and that never happened in the book. Also, Stefan was supposed to have been killed by Augustus, the BBC instead decided he should go on until October 2009. Now i know that in the book Augustus was supposed to have chopped of Stefan's private parts and caused him to bleed to death but the BBC could have just depicted Stefan being hit to death. Why change such a big detail? It made the story worse! The series was fantastic but I must say that the ending just made it undignified. Such a shame as I thoroughly enjoyed the story until then.
THE SECRET OF CRICKLEY HALL is a three-part miniseries made by the BBC
and broadcast on BBC1 in November 2012. Sadly, like with other recent
literary adaptations (GREAT EXPECTATIONS and THE TURN OF THE SCREW for
example), this seems to be a missed opportunity, merely going through
the motions rather than trying hard to pass as quality drama.
I'm a fan of James Herbert, although I haven't read the particular novel this adaptation is based upon, so I can't comment on it. However, this miniseries covers very familiar 'haunted house' territory, jutting between modern-day family woes and a story involving an orphanage in WW2-era Britain.
The story fails to work very well because none of the actors seem very convinced in what they're doing. Suranne Jones bags the meatiest role of the grieving mother but I never felt much sympathy for her character's plight, indeed she's rather uninteresting when it comes down to it. The producers try hard to build interest by casting seasoned performers in supporting parts (Donald Sumpter, David Warner, Susan Lynch, GAME OF THRONES' Maisie Williams) but none of them contribute their best work.
The three hour running time means that much of the storyline is repetitive; there are only one or two incidents that occur in the 'past' storyline yet the child abuse stuff is repeated over and over again for lengthy stretches; not even a hamming Douglas Henshall can save it. The modern-day stuff is littered with plot holes and the ghostly stuff is silly and slightly twee rather than genuinely haunting.
A missed opportunity then - a shame, because once again it could have been great had more care between taken with the quality of the script and performances of the cast.
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