The Secret of Crickley Hall, BBC One | TV reviews, news & interviews
The Secret of Crickley Hall, BBC One
The chills are not multiplying in adaptation of James Herbert's tale of a haunted school
The horror, the horror. Primetime television tends to give a wide berth to things that go bump in the night. However reliable a low-budget option for budding indie filmmakers, the chills are not multiplying on the small screen. There’s no need to call in a special spookologist to work out why. Horror has its own demographic, which won’t tend to curl up on the sofa of a Sunday night for a cosy hour of creaks and shrieks. So The Secret of Crickley Hall, which has slung on a white sheet and crept into the nation’s living room, is a bit of collector’s item.
Adapted by Joe Ahearne (who also directs) from James Herbert’s 2006 novel, it tells of Eve, a telepathically inclined mother (Suranne Jones) spooked by the disappearance of her curly-mopped son from a playground. One second he was on the slide, the next he’d vamoosed. Nearly a year on, the Caleigh family decided to ship out of London for some recuperative rural peace. “It’s a good choice,” said Eve’s well-scrubbed hubby Gabe (Tom Ellis) as they toured their new home. Crickley Hall in Devil’s Cleave did indeed represent a good choice if by good he meant draughty, unfurnished and glaringly haunted. The dog had the right idea, as dogs will in the vicinity of ghosts, and ran off at the first opportunity.
Pretty soon floorboards were doing their thing, doors wafting open, disembodied voices piping up. The viewers discovered what the Caleigh family will no doubt work out for themselves in episode two, that this used to be a wartime school for orphans where a regime of unspeakable cruelty held sway, underpinned by an anti-Zionist belief that the war was the product of a Jewish conspiracy. Gravestones in the local churchyard there was a sharp spike in work for gravediggers in 1943. Mention was made of a flood, while David Warner kept cropping creepily up an ancient gardener Who Was There. Flashbacks found a new teacher (Olivia Cooke) taking up cudgels on behalf of a taciturn Jewish refugee (Kian Parsiani) thwacked on a regular basis by a head (Douglas Henshall, pictured above right) going by the atmospheric name of Cribben. He kept a ledger of beatings administered and threatened to lob untreatable miscreants into the well in the basement.
So is The Secret of Crickley Hall scary? It may spook the dog, but does it also frighten the horses? Barely, it must be said, even in the slightest. There were a couple of nanoseconds when the flesh tingled, usually at the sudden smack of Henshall’s cane, but Ahearne’s arsenal of effects is threadbare and there is far too heavy a reliance on a blaring dissonant soundtrack and creeping cameras. “We’ve got ghosts!” hollered the family’s youngest child in triumph. Maybe, but those bumps in the night could just be the sound of viewing figures thonking on the floor.