Friday, October 26, 2012

The Secret of Crickley Hall: a Bad Year to be an Orphan

On the anniversary of their young son’s disappearance the Caleighs try to heal their grieving family by renting out the most haunted house in England.  Most of the former orphanage’s charges supposedly died in the great flood of 1943, but the truth is far more sinister.  It might also have very personal implications for the Caleighs in The Secret of Crickley Hall (promo here), a special three hour adaptation of James Herbert’s novel, which airs this Sunday on BBC America.

Eve Caleigh blames herself for the apparent loss of their son Cam.  So does everyone else, but they try not to say so.  She was the one who dozed off at the playground and woke up to find him missing.  She used to have a pseudo-psychic connection with her son, but since Cam vanished she has not felt his consciousness—until they move into Crickley Hall.

Convinced her son is still alive and in danger, Caleigh starts investigating the old house.  It is not pretty.  Most of the orphans were supposedly sucked into the well dug into the cellar during the tragic storm, but two remain unaccounted for.  Her best source of information is the old gardener, Percy Judd, who understood the grim realities of Crickley the rest of the town was unwilling to face.  He knew the headmaster was badly abusing the children, particularly a shy Jewish refugee, despite the heroic efforts of his potential girlfriend, the new teacher at Crickley, as viewers witness during the frequent flashbacks to 1943.

Thematically similar, Crickley is sort of like the TV miniseries version of Nick Murphy’s The Awakening.  Considering they still have two perfectly good daughters to lose, it is hard to believe the Caleigh’s do not turn on their heels as soon as they take a gander at that ominous looking well.  (What more do they need, a desecrated cemetery in the backyard?)  Yet, Gabe Caleigh stubbornly refuses to accept his wife’s ghost talk, despite all the spookiness going on around them.  Nonetheless, director-adaptor Joe Ahearne wrings plenty of chills and suspense from the eerie setting.

Although the ensemble does not have a lot of big names by the standards of Hollywood television magazines, it holds plenty of geek interest.  Suranne Jones, (co-star of a fan favorite Doctor Who episode) is compellingly guilt-ridden as Eve Caleigh.  Playing another mournful husband much like his character in The Fades, Tom Ellis is about as sympathetic and convincing as possible for the frustratingly incredulous Gabe Caleigh.  However, it is reliable veteran David (Tron, Time Bandits) Warner’s Judd who really gives the film heart, while Game of Thrones alumnus Donald Sumpter also bears watching as the mysterious old parapsychologist come to allay everyone’s fears.

Even though none of the revelations are shockingly original, Ahearne still pulls it all together rather effectively in the third hour.  He plays the old dark house card for all it is worth and juggles the two narrative time periods fairly adeptly.  Still, the well produced, half-period Crickley’s three hours could have easily been condensed into two without losing much.  Of course, it is important to bear in mind Herbert is a major best-seller in the UK, so a longer Crickley would make sense for the BBC over there.  All told, it is fairly scary stuff for an early Sunday evening.  Recommended for fans of British supernatural programming, The Secret of Crickley Hall premieres this Sunday (10/28) on BBC America.