There is something about ghosts, and ghost stories that I just can’t buy into. I have no problem with other supernatural beings. I’m cool with demons and vampires, werewolves and zombies. I love me some creature features. But for some reason I can only rarely suspend my disbelief for ghosts and spirits. One might think that ghosts would be easier to accept than the others as many people across the world believe in their actual existence and they are not far from the spirits that religions of all types believe are real.
Perhaps this is the reason I find fiction based upon these precepts so difficult. Its easy to accept vampires as real within the confines of a film because logically I know they do not exist. But when ghosts start popping up on the screen my own belief system kicks in and disagrees with the treatment of their realities.
I don’t really know why this is, but I do know that a ghost story must be really exceptionally well made for me to accept it and enjoy. Unfortunately The Secret of Crickley Hall falls short. It's good, but not nearly good enough.
The miniseries, based upon a novel of the same name by James Herbert was aired in three parts on the BBC. The story takes place in two time periods. The first, based in 2006, focuses on the Caleigh family whose son Cameron (Elliot Kerley) goes missing after his mom Eve (Suranne Jones) falls asleep at the park where he is playing. The events take place a year after Cameron went missing. The father, Gabe (Tom Ellis), gets a short contract outside of London and he takes his family along in hopes of lightening their moods with a change of setting. They rent out Crickley Hall and are quickly disturbed by the strange town-folk and stranger spirits.
The second story takes place in 1943, also in Crickley Hall, which was at that time an orphanage run by the dastardly Cribben family - sister Magda (Sarah Smart) and brother Augustus (Doublas Henshall.) Augustus runs the orphanage with severe discipline, often beating the children (and taking precise records of those beatings in a book) and possibly worse. A young school teacher, Nancy (Olivia Cooke), attempts to alert the authorities on the tortures the children suffer but before she is able to a great flood sweeps through the town, killing nearly all the children.
The earlier story works as flashbacks to the present-day one until slowly, over the course of the series, the two time periods come together. Taken individually, I rather quite liked the two stories. In the present day, the grief of the Caleigh family is quite real. I cannot imagine how horrible it would be to have lost your son never knowing if he is alive and suffering or long since dead. The actors do a great job of portraying a great range of emotions and their story is an interesting one. I just wish it had been fleshed out a little more and it could have stood on its own.
Likewise, the second story was enjoyable to watch and well made. The shady dealings of the orphanage and Nacy’s attempts at rescuing the children were quite interesting. It too could have been fleshed out a little more, perhaps providing some background on why the Cribbens were so cruel and it would have been a good stand-alone story.
As they attempted to bring the two stories together with spirit nonsense and psychic silliness, my attention began to wane. Eve begins to hear a voice that she believes is her son and that voice leads her to believe that the ghosts of the dead children can lead her to him. However, the ghost of Augustus is preventing the children from telling her anything, which sets up a series of events where Eve and some of the villagers attempt to remove Augustus’ ghost from the playing field.
Because we know exactly who the ghosts are and more or less what they want, there isn’t any real fear to them. Augustus is just a man, a horribly mean man, but no one to truly be afraid of if you are a modern-day woman and he is a ghost. They add in a lot of mood - shadowy lighting and creepy noises, but none of it was particularly unnerving or all that interesting. Leaving the show increasingly ludicrous as it pressed on, pushing the two stories to a completely unsatisfying ending.