Directed by Tim Fywell
Written by Sandy Welch, based on the novella by Henry James
Starring Michelle Dockery (Ann), Sue Johnstone (Sarah Grose), Dan Stevens (Dr Fisher), Nicola Walker (Carla), Eva Sayer (Flora), Josef Lindsay (Miles), Mark Umbers (Master), Corin Redgrave (Professor), Wendy Abiston (Baines), Sarah Buckland (Diana), Edward MacLiam (Peter Quint) and Katie Lightfoot (Emily Jessel)
Ann takes up the position of governess to two young orphaned children in a large isolated house in the country. They have been cared for by the housekeeper Sarah Grose since the sudden departure of the previous governess. The girl Flora lives in the house, but her brother Miles is away at school, until a letter arrives to say he is being sent home and will not be allowed to return to the school. Ann becomes increasingly concerned by the behaviour of the two children and as the secrets the house hides are slowly revealed she becomes convinced that a depraved and malevolent presence from beyond the grave is attempting to claim them.
The BBC has a long tradition of broadcasting Gothic ghost stories at Christmas, often those written by M R James, who remains probably the most celebrated English writer of ghost stories. For Christmas 2009, however, they chose a new production of the famous novella by Henry James, the famous British-based American writer. It was first published in 1898 and has frequently been the subject of literary analysis and discussion. This new adaptation, written by Sandy Welch, who has written many costume dramas for the BBC, including adaptations of ‘Emma’, ‘Jane Eyre’ and ‘North & South’, sexes up the story, presumably in an attempt to make it more palatable to television audiences now, and in the process destroys much of the sinister mystery and ambiguity of the themes to found in the book.
Michelle Dockery (whose previous credits include ‘Cranford’, ‘Waking the Dead’ and ‘Fingersmith’) is very good in the central role and Sue Johnston is always worth watching. Eva Sayer and Josef Lindsay are suitably creepy as the strange young brother and sister, but while the production is well mounted, I found it ultimately a little disappointing.
Tim Fywell is an experienced director, primarily working in television. He has directed several episodes of the brilliant long-running BBC crime drama series ‘Waking the Dead’. He also directed the Disney film ‘Ice Princess’, starring former ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ actress Michelle Trachtenberg, and prior to that ‘I Capture the Castle’, a film that starred another former ‘Buffy’ actor, Marc Blucas, together with Tara Fitzgerald, one of the current main cast of ‘Waking the Dead’.
Review posted 9 January 2010