Episode 1.02 Writer: Joe Ahearne (based on the book by James Herbert) Director: Joe Ahearne
THE ONE WHERE Eve and Gabe take very different approaches to the events in the house. Eve seeks the help of Lili Peel, a psychic who claims to have not only visited the house but lost her baby at the hands of Cribben. Gabe, desperate to prove the ghosts aren’t real, goes to Gordon Pike, a parapsychologist who stayed in the house for a week with no ill effects.
Meanwhile, in the past, Nancy goes to London to find out more about the circumstances of Cribben’s injury and finds doors closed on her at every turn. She concocts a plan to steal Cribben’s punishment book, but fails to take into account Magda Cribben…
VERDICT it’s normal for ghost stories to slump a little in the middle. This is the act where the main characters disagree over what’s really going on (check), old traumas are brought up and the ways they deal with it differ greatly (check), the plot in the past moves along a little bit (check) and the players are put in place for the final act (also check).
Then we get to the last ten minutes.
It’s only as Maurice throws Nancy’s – possibly dead – body down the well that you realise what you’ve just seen; a main character killed and taken off the game board with a full hour of the story to go. This is surprising in and of itself, but coming on the heels of Nancy’s fascinating plot in episode, it’s a real jolt. This is Nancy’s finest hour, lying her way into gathering some chilling information about Cribben, facing down Percy’s casually malicious mother and singlehandedly setting off to rescue the children. In a kinder story she’d be the heroine, succeeding at least a little. But here, all she is here is the first victim.
The fact that she’s Maurice’s victim makes it all the more wrenching. The hapless prefect seemed easily led and banally evil last week but the transformation into murderer makes perfect sense, given how Magda’s abusing him. It’s difficult to know what’s more disturbing: the initial, silent seduction or the moment Nancy spots the single red shoe and realises what’s going to happen. Top marks to all involved for playing the scene with such intensity and in near complete silence. Oh, and minus nearly all the marks for the single weediest sound effect ever for the moment where Maurice hits Nancy with the iron bar. We know it’s a deeply unpleasant moment and you’ll probably want to pull the punch a little bit but the sound effect is like a small child, tapping, ineffectually, on a large window, while wearing a glove. Which admittedly is a creepy image but the mewly sound effect does detract from the moment, badly.
In the present, Suranne Jones and Tom Ellis continue to impress, as do new additions Susan Lynch and Donald Sumpter. Lynch plays Lilli with genuine, raw pain and her scenes with Eve crackle as Lili, grieving for the child she lost at Crickley, helps Eve with the child she hopes to find there. The séance is particularly creepy, especially the door opening by itself and Lilli speaking with a child’s (Stefan’s I wonder?) voice.
Meanwhile, Team Rational Explanation gains a new member as Gabe recruits Gordon Pike. Donald Sumpter brings an almost Doctor-esque effortless charm to the role and his view of what ghosts are is genuinely refreshing; Gordon knows there’s something in places like Crickley Hall but views it as echoes, nothing more. It’s a massively refreshing way of portraying a scientist in stories like this and Gordon’s scenes are a real high point.
Up until the last ten minutes this is an absolutely typical middle act of a ghost story and Ahearne and Herbert’s plot uses that to pull some nice narrative Aikido on the viewers. We’re not where we normally are in stories like this, we’re much further along and only the viewers have any idea of how bad the situation is. As cliffhangers go, you can’t get much better than that.
CREEPIEST MOMENT Nice Gordon the parapsychologist being revealed to be either Maurice the evil Prefect grown up or in the thrall of Cribben. Simple, effective and chilling.
UNANSWERED QUESTIONS Why did Percy take Clyde the dog? Why did the Reverend threaten Percy? What’s the nature of Eve’s connection to her son? Is he alive? Did he know something was going to happen? Was Nancy dead when she was thrown down the well? What power does Cribben hold over Gordon? Is Gordon evil Maurice? Where is the Punishment Book? Why is Magda keeping her affair with Maurice from her brother?
• Donald Sumpter has appeared in Curse Of The Pink Panther, Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead, Enigma, The Constant Gardener, Eastern Promises, London Boulevard, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo remake and Ultramarines: The Movie… though we all probably know him best for Game Of Thrones (Maester Luwin) and Being Human (Kemp).
• Susan Lynch played a vampire in Interview With The Vampire and most recently Anna Monroe in Monroe. She’s also appeared in Cracker, From Hell and New Tricks.
Some belters this week, starting in the past:
Nancy: “Did you treat anyone else from the orphange? Any children?” Doctor: “All sorts of injuries, consistent with being at war, or with being children.”
Nurse: “Does he still have that little German boy?” (Asimple line that implies so much, none of it good)
Eve: “Nothing weird happened when I was out?” Gabe: “Weird for here? No.”
Gabe’s rationalist armour showing the tiniest hint of starting to crack.
Cribben: “Let us pray, you to your god… and me to mine.” (With this chilling semi-admission it’s clear that he’s not caning the kids for their good, but for his)
Irene Judd: “He wrote me what he’s been up to. He’s practically engaged.”
Julia Ford as Irene, Percy’s mum . A near miss for line of the week, for its offhand, polite cruelty.
Eve: “She’s been here before.” Gabe: “Oh yeah? Past life?”
Gabe’s rationalist armour patched back together.
Cally: “Do you believe in ghosts?” Gordon: “An excellent question, to which the quickest answer I can give is yes…and no.” Cally: “Dad, he’s silly.”
Cally talking to Gordon Pike. Pixie Davies is great as Cally, getting most of the funny material but never seeming precocious.
The Secret of Crickley Hall is on BBC1 on Sunday nights at 10pm.