Lightfields 1.01 REVIEW

Lightfields 1.01 “Episode One” TV REVIEW

Episode 1.01
Written by Simon Tyrell
Directed by Damon Thomas

THE ONE WHERE In 1944, the Felwood family, including daughter Lucy and young son, Pip, run Lightfields farm and welcome Eve, a young woman evacuated from London who has volunteered to help the war effort. As Eve makes friends with Lucy Felwood, the family’s oldest daughter, they both circle Dwight, an American airman stationed nearby.

In 1975, Vivien moves to Lightfields to spend six weeks there writing her first novel. She brings her daughter, Clare, with her. Vivien spent time in the area when she was a child, during the war, but has no memory of it.

In 2012, Barry and Lorna Felwood have moved to Lightfields with their grandson, Luke and put up with occasional visits from his father, Paul. They’re working on turning the farm into a guest house and it’s going well. However, when Pip Felwood, now an old man, returns to the farm, he feels something awaken and recognise him. Someone is singing, the same song and the same voice, across 68 years…

VERDICT Marchlands last year was a really pleasant surprise, thanks largely to the deftness of touch that carried the narrative across multiple time periods. That light hand is present in this pseudo-follow-up too, taking the same format and mapping it onto a different location. Here, the isolation of the farm is vital, every plot using it as a starting point, whether it’s Lucy’s fascination with the outside world in 1944, Vivien’s desperate need to escape the outside world in 1975 or the idea of Lightfields as a getaway in 2012. In all three cases, the farm is literally the last place on the road, and it makes sense that the barrier between the natural and the supernatural is thin in a place like this.

If Marchlands had a problem, it was that it was occasionally guilty of slow pacing and it’s nice to see Lightfields playing with the expectation of that. The opening scene of the barn burning plays – and is treated – like it will be the climactic event of the series, and you spend most of the episode watching what looks like the start of the gradual build-up to that dreadful, hungry fire.

Then it happens.

Much like The Secret Of Crickley Hall last year, this is a ghost story that will happily pay lip service to tradition and equally happily subvert it. There are four episodes to go, all in the shadow of that burning barn and questions about it are seeded through each one of the time periods with real subtlety.

It’s also refreshing to see a story like this told from a feminine point of view. In fact, the cast is almost completely gender balanced, with six female performers and seven male. The end result is you see two time periods, 1944 and 1975, from feminine viewpoints that look set to complement and focus each other as the show goes on. Lightfields draws a lot of subtle comparisons between the two outcasts from London: Eve in 1944 and Clare in 1975 for example. Eve runs headlong at life because she has no reason not to; Clare approaches everything cautiously because she doesn’t know anything else. It’ll be interesting to see if the two women’s fortunes reverse over the course of the episode.

The cast is uniformly very strong, but a couple of names stand out. Antonia Clarke and Dakota Blue Miller as Lucy and Eve are the heart of the show, and they capture that uniquely brittle combination of rivalry and friendship that dictates so much in adolescence. When she arrives, Eve is a socialite, an 18 year-old girl with a sex drive and absolutely willing to use it, whilst Lucy is the nice girl who stays at home and reads books. By the end of the episode, Lucy is dead and Eve finds herself an unwanted adult in a very unfriendly world. Both are completely naturalistic and completely unafraid to be unsympathetic, making their scenes spark and snap.

In the 1975 strand, both Lucy Cohu and Karla Crome do great work as Vivien and Clare. Cohu is all but incapable of turning in bad work at this point in her career and she manages to portray Vivien with a combination of absolute bravado and nagging uncertainty. You can see her putting the pieces together the longer she’s in the house and her final scene, where she doesn’t just hear the ghost, it speaks to her, is genuinely unsettling. Crome, meanwhile, plays Clare with the sort of absolute uncertainty and caution that teenagers dealing with parental breakups and illness have. She’s fragile and recalcitrant and dissatisfied. The parallels between her and Eve are chilling and look to be one of the threads that will tie the series together. Other members of the cast are impressive, especially Michael Byrne as the older Pip, but so far it’s these four performances that absolutely shine and provide a rock solid base for the rest of the cast, and show, to build on.

If Lightfields has a weakness it’s that, so far at least, the actual paranormal element isn’t particularly frightening. Whispered hide and seek games are all well and good and it’s nice to see EVP (see below) getting a look in, but the show will need to bare its teeth a little more to sustain this over four more episodes. That being said, there’s plenty of unanswered questions and plenty of time to ramp up the tension. Likewise, the 2012 arc isn’t particularly notable this time around, but judging by how the episode ends, that may be all set to change…

Lightfields is off to a great start. The three time periods are already locking together elegantly and the four core performances are all excellent. Whilst I’d like to see more scares the scope and ambition already on display, and the hints about future episodes mean, I suspect, that the best is yet to come.

UNANSWERED QUESTIONS How did the fire in the barn start? What happened between Dwight and Lucy? What was the message Pip sent? What happened to Vivien? Why can’t she remember what happened at Lightfields? Where’s Luke’s mother? How did the Felwoods get Lightfields back by 2012? Why did they sell it in the first place? Who was the girl who picked on Clare? What does Tom the farm hand remember? Where is Tom in 2012?

ELECTRONIC VOICE PHENOMENON The moment when Clare records a voice on her tape recorder is chilling and based on an actual observed effect. Electronic Voice Phenomenon or EVP is, according to scientists, electronically-generated noises that resemble speech. According to parapsychologists, EVP is a means of communicating with the ghosts of the building where it’s recorded. It’s referenced in The Sixth Sense and the White Noise movies, and is explored in a subtly different way in William Gibson’s 2003 novel, Pattern Recognition.

IT’S WOSSERNAME! There’s some familiar faces in all three casts, so let’s start with 1944:

• Jill Halfpenny is a British TV veteran, getting her start in Byker Grove and appearing in shows as diverse as Heartbeat, Shameless and Waterloo Road.

• Sam Hazeldine is much the same, with appearances in Life On Mars, Paradox, Lewis, Eternal Law and most recently Ripper Street on his CV.

• Larry Mills starred in Lost Christmas with Eddie Izzard.

• Antonia Clarke played Carly on Skins and is in the ‘Lovely Ladies’ ensemble in Les Miserables.

• Dakota Blue Richards was Lyra Belacqua in The Golden Compass, Maria Merryweather in The Secret of Moonacre and Franky on Skins.

• Danny Miller, who plays Tom the farm hand, appeared in both Grange Hill and Emmerdale.

• Neil Jackson, who plays sinister US pilot, Dwight, is another very familiar face. Aside from playing Khalek in an episode of Stargate: SG1 he was Marcus Van Sciver in Blade:The TV Series, Lucas Hellinger in Flashforward and Harry Spargo in Upstairs Downstairs.

Meanwhile over in 1975…

• Lucy Cohu’s best known in genre circles for her turn in Torchwood: Children Of Earth as Alice Carter, Jack Harkness’ daughter. However, she’s also appeared in countless other shows including Ripper Street and also appeared in 2011’s supernatural thriller, The Awakening.

• Karla Crome is of course best known as new arrival Jess on the most recent season of Misfits, but has also appeared in Monroe, Doctors and Hit And Miss.

And finally, 2012 brings us…

• Danny Webb, genre stalwart! Here he’s Barry Felwood, but you probably know him as Morse, the only surviving prisoner in Alien 3, or Mr Jefferson in “The Impossible Planet”/“The Satan Pit” Doctor Who two parter. However, he’s also been in Being Human, Space Precinct and Casualty three different times as three different people. Which is impressive.

• Sophie Thompson, who plays Lorna Felwood, has had a hugely storied career taking in a stint on EastEnders, Gosford Park, Doc Martin and Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part One where she played Mafalda Hopkirk. An EastEnders/Gosford Park/Doc Martin/Harry Potter crossover, whilst possible, is exactly what Egon meant when he told us to not cross the streams.

• Michael Byrne is yet another of those actors you’ll have seen dozens of times. He’s appeared in Outpost: Black Sun and Sharpe, but is, of course, best known in genre circles for Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade where he played General Vogel.

• Finally Kris Marshall, who plays splendidly oily dad Paul Willard, is best known as Nick Harper from My Family. However, he’s also had long term roles in Murder City and Funland, and was Private Barry Starinski in the surprisingly good World War I horror movie, Deathwatch.

MAYBE NOTHING BUT… Did anyone else pick up on the very odd conversation young Pip has with Lucy about Mr Hitler? Pip’s worried he’s coming and at first it seems like Lucy’s reassuring him that the country won’t be invaded. But then she says he isn’t real. Could Lightfields have had a ghost long before Lucy’s tragic death?

BEST LINE
Eve: “No rush, kid.”  (All of Eve and Lucy’s scenes are fantastically written and performed but this one, where Eve changes Lucy’s life forever, and the power struggle between them begins, is particularly great.)

Alasdair Stuart

Lightfields currently airs on ITV at 9pm on Wednesdays