Based on the novel of the same name by author James Herbert, The Secret Of Crickley Hall is a television miniseries produced by the BBC and broadcast at the end of 2012 in three parts, each running just shy of an hour in length. It's an interesting take on what at first seems like a traditional ghost story but which soon proves to be telling two parallel stories at once, the first set in the modern day and the second in the 1940s. All three episodes were directed by Joe Ahearne, the same man who wrote the screen play and while this made for TV never goes too far with any sort of extreme content and occasionally suffers from pacing issues, the good by far outweighs the bad here.
In the first episode, set in 2006, a woman named Eve Caleigh (Susanne Jones) is at the playground with her young boy, Cam (Elliot Kerley). As he goes about enjoying his playtime, she doses off and when she snaps back to the waking world, she's horrified to find that her son is gone. She finds his hay lying on the cold, wet ground but he is nowhere to be seen. As the months pass, enough time has gone by that Eve and husband Gabe (Tom Ellis) are beginning to lose hope that they'll ever see their son again. To help ease things a bit, Gabe takes Eve and their other two children, Cally (Pixie Davis), Loren (Maise Williams), to a town called Devil's Cleave to stay at Crickley Hall, a fancy old building where the family can hopefully relax a bit. The Caliegh's soon meet the groundskeeper, a strange old man named Percy Judd (David Warner), who pays meticulous attention to the disturbingly large number of headstones indicating gravesites out towards the back of the property.
From here, we shift gears to 1943 and learn the a bit of the backstory behind the old building. It turns out that Crickley Hall was once and orphanage ran by Magda Cribben (Sarah Smart) and her brother Augustus (Douglas Henshall). At first glance the Cribben's may seem nice enough but their new employee, a teacher named Nancy Linnet (Olivia Cooke), quickly uncovers some disturbing patterns of abuse and neglect. Also puttering around is a younger version of Judd (Ian De Caestecker), just a teenager and new onboard to a certain extent. Understandably, he's more than a little intrigued by the presence of the pretty new teacher.
As these two storylines intertwine, we learn that the graves are to honor the victims of a flood that killed off scores of the children who lived in the hall and that since that's happened, there have been reports of its being haunted. The Caleigh's soon learn that those reports are true.
The second part puts a lot of focus on Eve, who has seen the ghosts of the hall herself and is now quite convinced that they are real. She takes it upon herself to uncover the truth about the hall's history and to try to put together enough of a backstory to try and sort out the reasoning behind the hauntings. She starts digging around and learns more about the flood and its victims but encounters resistance from some of the locals whom she'd hoped would be able to shed some light on things. She's also tying some of what's going on here into the disappearance of her son.
Meanwhile, in decades past, Nancy has decided to get as many of the kids out of the Cribbens' hands as she possibly can, which obviously leads into the third and final chapter of the storyline where the various threads are merged and the story is resolved.
The performances are strong here pretty much across the board. Susanne Jones and Tom Ellis are very well cast as the parents of the missing boy who sets all of this into motion, they're believable in both their grief and then later in their terror. Olivia Cooke is just as good here as she is on A&E's Bates Motel. It's interesting to see her play a part here and compare it to her work on that series, likely what she's best known for with American audiences at this point in her fairly young career. She shows very good range as those two parts are quite different from one another. Additionally it's great to see David Warren here as the custodian, while Ian De Caestecker does fine as the younger version of the same character. Sarah Smart and Douglas Henshall as the sinister side of the cast also prove quite effective.
On top of the good acting we also get some nice atmosphere and great location photography. The building used to serve as the primary Crickley Hall location looks haunted enough even before the specters start to arrive, it's got plenty of great nooks and crannies and interesting windows to let in just enough light to cast some interesting shadows. So on a visual level, the series is quite a success as well. There aren't a lot of flashy effects set pieces here, rather the focus is on atmosphere and mood, something that the hall itself offers up in pretty healthy doses.
Those expecting loads of jump scares, the kind made popular by modern day ghost stories like the Paranormal Activity films, might walk away from this one if not disappointed at least a little taken aback. Though there are some genuinely frightening moments throughout the series this is very much a slow burn take on the paranormal. The pacing here is determined, sometimes a little too slow, and there are bits and pieces of the production that probably could have been more judiciously edited in order to help with the flow. Overall, however, this is a good old fashioned ghost story with some interesting twists and a lot of humanity and emotion behind it.
BBC presents The Secret of Crickley Hall on DVD framed at 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen. This was shot on digital video in HD and the DVD looks pretty solid. There is some shimmering here and there but detail is crisp and while this isn't the most colorful movie you're ever going to see, the different hues and tones used in the visuals are reproduced here quite accurately. Some minor crush is evident in the darker scenes where we also notice some minor compression artifacts but outside of that this is a clean, detailed image that shows good sharpness and contrast.
English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix here is also quite good, but a 5.1 surround option probably would have made the spooky scenes a bit spookier. Outside of that? No complaints. The dialogue is clean and clear and if you have trouble with the accents, optional English closed captioning is provided. The score sounds nice, the levels are properly balanced and there are no problems at all with even a trace of hiss or distortion.
There are no extras on this release to speak of, outside of basic menus and chapter selection.
The Secret of Crickley Hall is more than a little slow at times but it makes up for that with some well written characters brought to life by a talented cast and by emphasizing atmosphere and mood over jump scares and effects. This is a fairly old fashioned ghost story but there's nothing wrong with that when it's as well made as this. Add to that the fact that there's some good emotional notes hit throughout the duration of the three part mini-series, and this winds up a story well worth being told. The BBC's DVD is barebones but it does look and sound good, as such, it comes recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.