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WEEKEND TV PREVIEW: The Secret Of Crickley Hall

Posted by Michael Moran
Michael Moran
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on Friday, 16 November 2012
Winter is the best time for ghost stories. That's why there's always an MR James on at Christmas. It's why we don't have Hallowe'en in July.

Stranded between the year's two spookiest holidays is The Secret Of Crickley Hall, (Sunday, 9pm). It may sound like a mysterious Noel Edmonds vehicle, but it is in fact a major three-part spine-tingler based on a James Herbert novel.

You can tell it's 'major' and 'three-part' because it's in absolutely no hurry to get anywhere. Like Don't Look Now it starts with every parent's worst nightmare. But for the rest of the hour it doesn't do a whole lot, just busies itself with setting things up for the next two weeks.

With some casts that would be a risky manoeuvre. In the age of the hand-held remote control television audiences became a touch fickle. Throw in today's bewildering proliferation of channels - where the careless viewer can often lose all hope of finding their way back to what they flicked away from during an ad break and just settle for Grand Designs -  and it becomes easy to understand why broadcasters aim for a loud bang every ten minutes.

I'm pleased to report that The Secret Of Crickley Hall will keep your attention. For a  start, the cast is excellent: Suranne Jones, great in Scott & Bailey and at least as good here, is the mother with powerful if unreliable psychic link to her son.

In a change of gear from his regular turn in Miranda, Tom Ellis is her decent if slightly dull husband. Maisie Williams – best known as the standout character from Game Of Thrones -  plays their eldest daughter.

David Warner, who has been striking terror into the hearts of cinema audiences since I started secondary school, is hovering around on the fringes of the script in a way that betokens some sort of pivotal role before the final credits roll.

Something the show has inherited from its source novel is an excellent mechanic for keeping the haunted family on the scene. In most haunted house mysteries you find yourself thinking, "Why don't they just ring for a taxi?". That's elegantly dealt with here.

If The Secret Of Crickley Hall were just a rather slow-moving gooseflesher with echoes of The Shining and The Turn Of The Screw it would be fun but unremarkable. What gives it an added dimension is that it tells not only the story of the haunted, but the haunters. Running in parallel with the modern day narrative is a backstory for the unquiet spirits of Crickley Hall set in 1943.

We're not altogether sure what precipitated the mysterious flood that condemned the occupants of a wartime orphanage to some supernatural netherworld but we know we'll find out some time in episode three. There's quite enough going on between the interesting premise and the captivating cast to make sure we hang around until then.
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