TV miniseries review: The Secret of Crickley Hall (2012), directed by Joe Ahearne
A year after the disappearance of youngest child Cam, Gabe Caleigh (Tom Ellis) gets a job up north and relocates with his wife Eve (Suranne Jones) and two daughters (Maisie Williams and Pixie Davies) to a spooky old house in the countryside, Crickley Hall. Unexplained phenomena ensue. Weird, old locals – namely Percy (David Warner) – have Stories to tell about the hall. Stories that at first seem ridiculous, but soon start to make an awful lot of sense …
In 1943, Crickley Hall was home to an orphanage for children evacuated from wartime London. The proprietors, Augustus Cribben (Douglas Henshall) and sister Magda (Sarah Smart) do their best to make new teacher Nancy (Olivia Cooke) feel awkward and unwelcome. Nancy quickly realises that the Cribbens’ idea of discipline is not exactly child-friendly, and they are particularly hard on a Jewish boy from Germany, Stefan Rosenbaum (Kian Parsiani).
Also starring Iain De Caestecker as young Percy, Bill Milner as the “prefect” Maurice, Susan Lynch as psychic Lili Peel and Donald Sumpter as paranormal researcher Gordon Pyke.
The Secret of Crickley Hall is based on a 2006 novel by James Herbert. Certain parts of this miniseries, and I guess also the novel, sound like they’re straight from the 1999 film The Haunting: bad man wouldn’t let the orphans go in life, and certainly won’t let them go in death.
The rest is fairly standard “bereaved family move into old house, hauntings ensue”, complete with the youngest child being the most “open” to the phenomena. The grieving mother, refusing to admit that her missing child might be dead, is quick to believe the place is haunted and calls in a medium. The equally grieving father takes a more sceptical view and goes to find a paranormal investigator instead, and so on.
In fact, if you mix The Haunting with a Swedish miniseries from late 1990s or early 2000s, that I can’t for the life of me remember what it was called or who was in it but oh boy it was BRILLIANT, you’re not too far off. In the miniseries, a school class went to an old house on Gotland, which started creaking like a ship on the sea, and there was a well in the cellar and the whole thing flooded. There was one of those mechanical spinning tops there as well. But yeah, seeing the well in the cellar and hearing about a flash flood, I instantly knew what sort of shenanigans were about to ensue, or had already ensued in the past.
To be fair, ghost stories are sadly rarely all that surprising, and while there were a few twists and turns here, it was still fairly obvious at times what was going to happen. Still really enjoyed the ride, though.
The child actors were very good – fun to see Arya Stark as a modern day teenager, for instance – as were the adults. The setting was incredibly moody, and the old house definitely played the part of Spooky Old Ex-Orphanage very well. The Secret of Crickley Hall is a well-told and well-executed BBC miniseries in three parts. There aren’t a lot of jump-worthy moments, but there is plenty of dread and foreboding. I want to see more ghost stories like this. Ghost stories that aren’t just a CGI scarefest, unlike a certain film I’ve mentioned twice already, but with a bit of brain as well.
The strangest thing about it was that the hour-long episodes somehow felt longer than they were. Not because they were boring or anything, but there was a lot happening, albeit not necessarily like bang-bang-bang, but on two different timelines.
Overall, a really rather splendid series. More, please!
3.8 out of 5 bamboo canes.