Taking on The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, Bly Manor grapples with seductive romances, entertaining friendships, familial compassion, unfulfilled stares and abusive affairs. Showrunner Mike Flanagan ( Doctor Sleep ), and his team of mostly female writers, approach a classic ghost story populated with chilling phantoms with heart-piercing humanity.
Left to right: Hannah (T'Nia Miller), Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth), Flora (Amelie Smith) and Dani (Victoria Pedretti). Photo: Netflix
It’s 1987, and the American 20-something Dani Clayton (Victoria Pedretti) is looking for a job in London. She is interviewed by Henry Windgrave (Henry Thomas), a heavily blazered and unsociable businessman, who needs an au pair to look after his niece and nephew in the country. She gets the job, and she’s driven to the manor by its resident cook Owen (Rahul Kohli).
Bly looms large and wide, emphasised with some unconvincing CGI but ominous all the same. Dani meets the discombobulated maid Hannah (T’Nia Miller), the misanthropic gardener Jamie (Amelia Eve), and the weirdly sprite-like children: Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) and Flora (Amelie Smith).
But despite Flora’s repetitive insistence that everything is ‘perfectly splendid’, it’s obviously not. Miles and Flora’s parents died in an accident and the former au pair, Miss Jessel (Tahirah Sharif), drowned herself in Bly’s lake.
Flora with her former, deceased au pair Miss Jessel (Tahirah Sharif). Photo: Netflix
Fans of James and Turn of the Screw will be deterred by the tonal differences in this adaptation, as Bly Manor dissolves much of its psychological ambiguity. The ghosts are indisputably there. But in its place: feelings of grief, guilt, regret, and love purge through the characters, both living and dead – examining them in detail before moving with the plot. You’re soon embedded into their emotions, their histories. This intensifies the fear factor: you don’t want to see them hurt.
Like the previous season The Haunting of Hill House, Bly Manor is scattered across different times. But this structure is more ambitious: it’s wondrous, overwhelming. It pulls you into a thick and gloomy mist of consciousness.
The series builds its spectral details in dribs and drabs, Flanagan maintaining those idiosyncratic shapes in the dark. Shots you don’t pay much mind suddenly come alive. Peter Quint (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), the portentous villain of the story, stares from afar before coming closer – capturing the perspectival creepiness of the novella, as well as the eerie 1961 film version The Innocents.
There are moments that’ll make British viewers chuckle, chiefly the accents. The characters have an intelligent blend of Mancunian, Scottish, and outrageously posh. Often the efforts from American actors waver like untuned violins. Henry Thomas, in particular, seems to be attempting a Prince Charles impersonation. But once you’ve adjusted after a few episodes, these vocal inadequacies don't really matter. In fact, they're erroneously enjoyable.
Bly Manor isn’t as dark or even as frightening as Hill House, but its emotional force, the way it carries you through these very human stories, is unparalleled. After episode five (the best one), it’s perfectly reasonable to weep as each subsequent chapter concludes – both from the drama and the fear. Like the ghosts of Bly, these characters float in the dreamy corridors of your soul long after you leave the manor.
The Haunting of Bly Manor is available on Netflix from Friday 9 October
|What||The Haunting of Bly Manor, Netflix review|
09 Oct 20 – 09 Oct 21, ON NETFLIX