Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Secret Of Crickley Hall - TVReview

Article author: Alwyn Ash

"During World War II, Crickley Hall is a home for orphans evacuated from London. In their attic bedroom, the eldest boy, Maurice Stafford walks in and says to a small Jewish boy, Stefan Rosenbaum that 'Mr Cribben wants to see you'. Stefan runs out onto the landing and hides in an airing cupboard..."

Based on the best-selling 2006 novel by James Herbert, "The Secret of Crickley Hall" is one of those haunting tales that brings together child abuse and murder, loss and pain. Set during two parallel time periods (1943 and 2012), we witness first hand the cruelty of Augustus Cribben (played by Douglas Henshall) as he subjugates his charges to his warped sense of morality, aided by his sister Magda Cribben (Sarah Smart), and eldest charge Maurice Stafford (Bill Milner). The past of Crickley Hall is perfectly balanced by the dramas of the present day, as parents Eve and Gabe Caleigh (played by Suranne Jones and Tom Ellis respectively in the 2012 sequences) move from their old family London home to the old house of Crickley after the disappearance of their son Cameron (or "Cam"). The former believes their child to still be alive, refusing to accept any other possibility. This, as it turns out, will be the driving force for her interest in the ghostly goings-on at the Hall.

Throughout the drama, we visit both eras as a story unfolds of cruelty and suspicion, as young Nancy Linnet (Olivia Cooke) accepts a position at Crickley (in 1943) as a tutor for the resident children. The young woman also meets Percy Judd (Iain De Caestecker) and a close friendship develops. In 2012, the Caleigh family (completed by daughters Loren and Cally) live life as best they can, with eldest daughter Loren (Maisie Williams) going to a new school. But something is wrong at the Hall, and pretty soon disturbances convince Eve that their new residence is haunted - and that, somehow, Cameron is connected!

A dramatic retelling is only as good as the cast, and there is exceptional talent to be found in "Crickley", including David Warner as the elderly Percy Judd. Scriptwriter and director Joe Ahearne ("Ultraviolet", "Doctor Who") delivers the best possible piece, masterfully delivering a suspenseful and intriguing play. Originally airing on BBC One between Nov-Dec 2012, the three-part serial may have attracted an average of five million per episode but its elegance remains - this is quite definitely BBC drama at its finest!

The Secret of Crickley Hall © BBC

As the tale progresses we learn that Cribben is both deranged and especially hateful towards a Jewish German orphan boy called Stefan Rosenbaum (Kian Parsiani), taking to his whip far too often and for the most minor of "misdemeanors" - the master of Crickley Hall even keeps a punishment ledger, which we later see reflects the cruelty of his "justice" with crimes such as "Crying", "Refusing to speak" and "Wetting the bed". The pretty Nancy is resolute in exposing Cribben's own immorality, and protect the children in his care from any further harm. They are afraid, and Maurice's subservience acts as a major barrier.

Olivia Cooke fans will, of course, now know her as Emma Decody in the "Bates Motel" television series, and her performance in "Crickley" is a strong one as Nancy, who eventually gains the interest of Parish priest The Reverend Horace (portrayed by Craig Parkinson). But it is undoubtedly Suranne Jones who hits the mark as a grieving mother - a phone call in the last chapter brings Eve the news she had hoped would never come, and her reaction to this is just as haunting as the ghostly drama itself - what else can be expected from an actress whose talents have also touched such roles as Sarah in "Single Father" (2010) and Rachel in "Scott & Bailey"?

There are many surprises, including a visit to an elderly Magda (the part taken by Annie Kelly for these scenes) in the "present day", and the ghostly apparitions of children running up the stairs of Crickley Hall, observed by Eve and her youngest Cally (played by the adorably cute Pixie Davies). And then there is the unseen whipcracking, heard by many including a school bully who takes an immediate dislike to eldest daughter Loren. This adaptation was so good that I just had to go out and visit my local bookstore, purchasing a copy of Herbert's finest example of a ghost story. In the end, it was less Poltergeist-scares and more tragedy-based, with two tales interlinking nicely.

One thing that can be said, the BBC has a way of adapting books for screen, with a sharp eye for period drama especially. You only have to look at its recent track-record: "Little Dorrit" (2008); "Great Expectations" (2011); and this year's success "The Crimson Field" (also starring Suranne Jones), marking the BBC's World War I centenary season of programming. In a 2012 interview, author Herbert had some scepticism regarding the transfer of his novel onto screen, believing its complexity would be impossible to adapt, "For a writer the hardest part is handing your work over to someone else, and letting their vision take over". He seemed genuinely pleased with Ahearne's take on "Crickley Hall".

Thoroughly entertaining, and gripping, with enough emotion to sustain through almost three hours, this is one drama that I recommend to anyone who enjoys a good old-fashioned ghost story. Sadly Herbert passed away in 2013, but he leaves behind an intriguing legacy, one that will be studied and celebrated for many years to come...

Purchase The Secret of Crickley Hall from the Store:
DVD - Book - Running time: 175 minutes

Picture: BBC America