Last Night’s TV – The Turn of the Screw

by Lynn Connolly

It’s a pity this wasn’t shown on Christmas Eve, a time when traditionally – though I’ve no clue why – a good old ghost story is meant to get us in the festive mood. And this was the best of good old ghost stories.

It was so clichéd and full of the things that creep us out, it was actually so bad, it was incredibly good. The creepy kids, Miles and Flora, played brilliantly by Josef Lindsay and Eva Sayer, must’ve come from an agency that deals only in spooky looking kids.

The Victoriana elements of the tale were awesome in their worn way; the giggling, whispering ghosties, the furtive, elusive ghoulies – or, goolies in the instances of percy filth between apparitions – abounded, as did secretive and evil glances and actions between the children.

In a nutshell, the story – based on Henry James’s seminal work – told the story of Anne, ex-governess and, as the film began, patient in a mental hospital. Her kindly doctor tried his best to get out of her what had happened at Bly, the rambling and beautiful country pile where evil spirits ruled the roost. And he achieved it as we got to see and hear the tale from Anne’s point of view.

And apropos of Anne, she was played with finesse by Michelle Dockery whose portrayal was beautifully played out; from her beginnings as innocent – and smitten with her employer – young teacher to broken woman, she was enrapturing from start to finish.

The addition of the excellent and versatile Sue Johnston as the housekeeper was a masterstroke, and fortunately, Johnston is one of the lucky few who will never know the ignominy of stereotyping, for not once did I expect her to spark a ciggy or yell at our Ant’ny.

The ominous ghosties were ex-governess – and very dead – Miss Jessel, played rather erotically by Katie Lightfoot, and her lover and all round cad/beastly man, Peter Quint. He was of course also deceased and was played with absolute menace by Edward MacLiam. And although overall the whole thing didn’t scare me, the scene near the end when Quint came to “claim” Miles and he banged his head against the windows was pretty dang creepy.

I’ve never actually read James’s original work so – sadly, because I like doing it – I can’t pick holes in Sandy Welch’s adaptation, but in this case, I’m glad I didn’t read the book first because the ending came as a bit of a shock; Miles brown bread and Anne off to, I presume, the gallows for supposedly killing him.

It was a really good watch and if you missed it, you can catch in on BBC iPlayer here.

Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.