I find that, it terms of British TV series, the hardest genre to perfect is that of horror which is mainly down to the fact that an episodic structure means that the big scares will always be left to the final instalment. This means then that the episodes coming before must deal with building up suspense, which is something I find they struggle with, however not so with the BBC’s new supernatural offering The Secret of Crickley Hall. One of the best things about the show is it is only three episodes long, so we know that we won’t have to wait long for the horrific conclusion, meanwhile it’s dual storylines help us to understand what some of the characters are going through.
The drama starts in the present day and introduces us to Suranne Jones’ Eve Caleigh who is a successful professional living in London with her family. Eve’s life falls apart when her son Cam goes missing.
This incident is made even worse as Cam goes missing at the playground when she falls asleep but as the pair have some sort of magical connection, based on the fact their fingers can both bend the wrong way, she believes him still to be alive. Eleven months on Eve still hasn’t given up hope however when her husband Gabe, played by Miranda’s Tom Ellis, gets a job up North for a couple of months he decides to take his family with him so they won’t be in the area for the anniversary of Cam’s disappearance. The family move into Crickley Hall, a residence that Gabe rents for their stay in the area, which is an old and strange house that makes a lot of noise and has a particularly creepy cellar. Local resident Percy Judd starts snooping around telling the Caleighs that he once worked at the hall adding that they shouldn’t let their daughters go down to the cellar and that the family dog should stay outside. Gabe later surveys the village graveyard noting that a lot of children died in 1943 something the vicar attributes to a flash flood that wiped out a lot of the locals. He also tells Gabe not to listen to what Percy tells him however we later see the vicar in conversation with Percy instructing him to let the Caleighs be. Even though he eventually decides to kidnap their dog.
The drama then shows us the history of Crickley Hall as a wartime orphanage where a young Percy works as the groundskeeper and takes a shining to the pretty new teacher Nancy Linnet. Nancy butts heads with the Crickley Hall’s co-owner Magda Cribben who believes Nancy to be over-sentimental especially in regards to the Jewish German student Stefan Rosenbaum. Most terrifying of all though is Magda’s brother Augustus who regularly beats his charges and doesn’t believe in forgiveness. So when Nancy attempts to shed light on his underhanded practises he doesn’t react in a favourable manner.
Back in the present day the Caleighs are starting to realise that strange things are afoot when younger daughter Cally notices the ghosts of children playing on the stairs while later the ghost of Augustus canes older daughter Lauren in her sleep following her altercation with some school bullies. Though the family agree that the house is haunted Eve believes that these ghosts know what happened to Cam and she convinces them to stay in Crickley Hall till they discover the truth.
I think what I liked most about Crickley Hall was the sense that the mystery went beyond the ghosts in the house and was related to the modern day disappearance of a young boy. Instead of simply a ghost story then The Secret of Crickley Hall had an intriguing narrative as we desperately tried to find out what happened to young Cameron. Director Joe Ahearne, who also adapted James Herbert’s source novel, shoe horns in every classic haunted house element from the unexplained noises to the creepy children’s toy but does it in a way that doesn’t make them feel clichéd. From Eva’s opening nightmare to the haunting score played throughout I was really gripped by the modern day scenes as I felt for this mother who was evidentially going through a painful loss. The same can’t be said for the 1943 part of the story which felt a little too far-fetched and stereotypical as the young German boy is bullied by pupils and teachers alike who believe that his kind have caused the war in the first place. We are also aware that their tale can’t possibly end well as we’ve already seen their gravestones in the modern day cemetery.
On the whole the cast are great with Suranne Jones perfectly capturing a harassed mother still holding out hope for finding the son she feels responsible for losing. Tom Ellis successfully portrays the everyman trying to keep his children together while Game of Thrones’ Maisie Williams and newcomer Pixie Davies are fantastic as sisters Lauren and Cally. The best performance though comes from Douglas Henshall who chews the scenery as the terrifying and vindictive Augustus Cribbin who will no doubt meet his comeuppance in a suitably dreadful way.
The one thing I felt while watching The Secret of Crickley Hall was why it hadn’t aired sometime over the Halloween period as it seems a little out of place appearing in the schedules during the run-up to Christmas. Every time there was another haunting moment I was thinking it would be great to watch this during Halloween weekend as everybody really like a good scare around then. That criticism aside I found Crickley Hall to be an enjoyable supernatural drama with plenty of classic haunted house elements thrown into what I believe to be a very modern story. The cast were all terrific while the music was perfect my only problem was that at times I felt the 1943 scenes were a little over-the-top even for a ghost story such as this. Most importantly though the story had enough intrigue to make me want to tune in for the final two episodes of what I consider to be a very competent ghostly tale.
What did you think to The Secret of Crickley Hall? Did it scare you at all? Leave Your Comments Below