Based on a 2006 novel by recently deceased UK horror icon James Herbert, Crickley Hall concerns a family in mourning. Nearing the first anniversary of their unthinkable tragedy, the foursome moves temporarily to the title abode to escape reminders of death. You know what they say about best intentions, right? Because, as the youngest of the couple’s children (the adorable, aptly named Pixie Davies) exclaims with glee, “We’ve got ghosts!”
Indeed, inexplicable occurrences practically come built-in, held over from World War II, when the spacious manse served as an orphanage lorded over by the cane-whipping Crippen (Douglas Henshall, TV’s Primeval). What one has to do with the other, I leave for viewers to discover, just as the hall’s new teacher (Olivia Cooke, TV’s Bates Motel) does.
Adapting the book, director Joe Ahearne — who mined equally smart stories of the supernatural in 2008’s excellent Apparitions — moves seamlessly between the 1940s and the now. The present-day story and overall trilogy of episodes are anchored by an award-worthy performance from Suranne Jones (TV’s Five Days) as the wife and mom unwilling to accept reality or give up hope — not as long as otherworldly signs suggest otherwise.
Crickley Hall excels as a Gothic-styled haunted-house tale told in a contemporary style, bristling with atmosphere and chills both literal and figurative. It’s also a deeply affecting drama, which is not what one expects from a ghost story. Good! Because that’s yet another way for Ahearne and Herbert to hook you.
I certainly was — so addicted, so emotionally invested, in fact, that its three hours were consumed in a single sitting. It helps that the program feels like half that time. BBC’s crisp-looking DVD holds no extras, nor does it need any. —Rod Lott
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