Wednesday, 12 December 2012

The Secret of Crickley Hall REVIEW

If ever there was a reason to escape the country, the evidence can be found in Joe Aherne's suitably chilling adaptation of James Herbert's tale of spectres and secrets...

WARNING: Sixth Sense-style SPOILERS ahead! 

In the modern age, a convincing ghost tale is hard to pull off. That's not to say that there haven't been a number of high profile successes in the genre. M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense is one of the most financially successful films of recent times. Movies like The Woman in Black and The Others have shocked audiences worldwide, and even home-grown UK dramas like The Fades and Being Human have done well to upgrade the tropes of the ghost story for those who didn't grow up in a gothic mansion (which is, after all, most of us). 

The ghost story thrives on the isolation of its locale - think of the cut-off location in The Woman in Black or the dark, secluded home in The Orphanage. It would be hard to imagine a terrifying ghost story set in the Cafe Nero on Oxford Street, although I'm now kinda eager to pen one, just for the hell of it. But that sense of isolation is perhaps crucial - after all, what is death but an inescapable alienation from living things?

Joe Ahearne's adaptation of The Secret of Crickley Hall succeeds partly because it manages to achieve this isolation, and like many strong ghost stories, it does so on more than one level. The family at the heart of this story, led by grief-stricken parents Eve (Suranne Jones) and Gabe (Tom Ellis), have escaped to Crickley Hall less in a state of vacationing bliss but rather to endure an extended mourning period. Early on in the tale, their young son Cam goes missing while in Eve's protection. With the first anniversary of Cam's disappearance fast approaching, Crickley Hall becomes their unexpected refuge. That is, until they realise the house holds its own secrets about a few missing children... 

Game of Thrones' Maisie Williams stars in The Secret of Crickley Hall
The Caleigh family are cut off from the world and each other, both physically and psychologically, and Cam's disappearance is one of many dark, painful questions that are raised throughout this three-hour adaptation. Importantly, Eve has a reason to stay in the house once she discovers it is haunted: she learns that the children may know the location of her missing son. From that moment she is driven to uncover the truth about what happened to the children (who we learn were a group of orphans who died in 1943) in order to escape her own pain. 

The story flicks back and forth between 1943 and the present, and the shifts between the past and the present work well together and gradually unroll a series of revelations about the sufferings of the orphans that stands in stark contrast with the loving, modern Caleighs. But it would not be fair to say that the story glorifies modern attitudes to parenthood by demonising the customs of our ancestors; rather, it highlights a number of injustices that a 21st century audience can relate to. 

It emerges that in 1943, the children (in particular a young Jewish boy) are being ruthlessly abused by their schoolmaster, Augustus Cribben. It's one of the great ironies that emerges from the flashback/flashforward techniques on display: on one hand the old-fashioned schoolmaster who hates the children and isn't fit to look after them; on the other, the loving parents who lose a child they care for dearly. This is never explicitly stated but is still noticeably apparent.

In particular, the story of Stefan, a young Jewish boy who is treated callously by Cribben and the other orphans, is one of the more dramatically compelling elements of the three episodes, not least because of the audience's understanding of what was really happening in Europe at the time the flashback scenes were taking place. The frankness of Cribben's Anti-Semitism is an uncomfortable reminder that the horrifying prejudices that led to the Holocaust were not restricted to Germany, as many would like to forget. In this sense alone, the story succeeds, as it does what all good ghost stories do: it brings to light some great, oft-ignored truth, an aspect of history that would probably be lost if the ghosts did not exist to ensure it could not be forgotten. 

The saddest thing about Crickley Hall is that it only lasts for 3 episodes - unlike its ghostly inhabitants, this story makes sure it doesn't outstay its welcome. But it has restored my faith in the British ghost story, and I can only wait with bated breath for what Joe Ahearne decides to give us next...

What did you think of 'The Secret of Crickley Hall'? Were you suitably freaked out? Did the story of Stefan and the other orphans have you enthralled? 

Leave your thoughts below!


  1. I really enjoyed this... I think the length was perfect.
    Three episodes was enough to tell the story without dragging things out. A full series would have been a bit tedious, I think.

    The acting was great, and I even felt sad for Cribben at the end!

    I hope the BBC continue to do things like this, and not just in the winter months.

    Can you remember last year, when Alex Kingston starred in something that I can't remember the name of? It was about a house with secrets and the family that lived there. Not 'Middlemarch' obviously, but something that sounded like it!

    Great review of 'Crickley Hall', btw!

    1. Do you mean the show she did called 'Marchlands'? They're doing a second series called 'Lightfields', I think it's due later this year!

      I heard about it via Digital Spy: