I’ve never been a fan of supernatural drama. I think you either are or you aren’t and I’m not. I understand the need for escapist TV but I don’t entertain stories of werewolves, vampires or ghosts and ghouls as I always find them silly. It’s fair to say I began BBC1’s new drama series The Secret of Crickley Hall with some trepidation. On one hand it sported a fantastic cast with Douglas Henshall, Sarah Smart, Craig Parkinson, Susan Lynch, Surrane Jones and Tom Ellis but on the other it was about a haunted house and a mother who could hear her missing son.
The story begins in 1943 and we see the impressive exterior of creepy Crickley Hall on a dark and dismal night. Though, admittedly not a fan of ghost stories myself I can appreciate all the hallmarks of the best ones are used here to brilliant effect. The story shifts between the events in Crickley Hall in 1943 and 2012 and that’s what made Crickley Hall more interesting for me than your bog standard haunted house story. Surrane Jones play Eve, a mother who falls asleep on a park bench and discovers her slightly annoying six year old son has wondered off. Has he been taken? We don’t know and Eve is most certainly clueless but he’s definitely gone. Eve is “haunted” by her young son’s disappearance as the two shared a close bond and as the one year anniversary of her nap on the bench comes round her husband Gabe (played brilliantly by skeptic Tom Ellis) decides it might be best for Eve and their two young daughters to leave the difficult memories of London behind and move to Crickley Hall. Oh Gabe you fool!
Crickley Hall is the sort of place a family with any sort of problems you stay away from. It’s old, it creeks, there’s only one place you can get a mobile signal and did I mention the ghosts of dead children that still live there? It’s the sort of place that would get terrible trip advisor reviews.
Unfazed or oblivious to the glaring danger that will befall them at Crickley Hall the family settles in. It’s here where the action shifts to 1943 where we learn more about the history of Crickley and the terrible goings on there that ricochet rather nicely into 2012. In 1943 Crickley Hall was an orphanage for children evacuated during the Blitz. If Annie had been sent to Crickley Hall I doubt the musical would’ve ever been written. It’s run by brother and sister Magda, and Augustus Cribben who rule with iron fist and a whip. Douglas Henshall is masterful as the dark and genuinely scary Cribben and the usually warm and bubbly Sarah Smart is equally squirm educing as his no nonsense sister. We meet the lovely Nancy, who comes onboard to teach the orphans and is the first to uncover the sinister behavior of the Cribben’s.
The orphanage is the sort of place that would have kids begging to go the dentist just to have something to look forward to. It’s bleak, depressing and genuinely scary. Back in 2012 and our family start to hear footsteps and seeing ghostly figures. Most families with two young daughters would take that as their cue to leave but not Eve and Gabe, they decide to stay in Crickley Hall as “they’re only ghosts they can’t hurt us.” Admittedly there were parts of this first episode that were silly and far fetched to say the least but I found Crickley Hall strangely redeeming enough to keep me watching. The performances are brilliant, the shift between the two time periods means it never really gets boring and if you are a fan of traditional haunted house stories then this has it all. It’s difficult to say more without giving far too much of the plot away and having not read the book it’s difficult for me to judge how faithfully it sticks to James Herbert’s original novel but as a piece of escapist television on a Sunday night this does the job nicely. If you can let yourself go and ignore the sillier elements of the plot you should enjoy Crickley Hall and be genuinely on the edge of your seat too.
The Secret of Crickley Hall Begins Sunday 18th November at 9.00pm on BBC1