Herbert Wise (director)
10 August 2020 (released)
Having seen the play, the recent (relatively) film but not read the book I was very much looking forward to this version of Susan Hill’s 1983 ghost story. Adapted by Nigel Kneale for ITV in 1989, I can’t remember seeing it at the time which was remis.
Set in Edwardian England a young London based lawyer Arthur Kidd (Adrian Rawlins) is despatched to the seaside town of Crythin Gifford to attend the funeral and administer the estate of a recently deceased client, Mrs Drablow.
Arriving at the town the locals aren’t overly comfortable with him being there or his task in hand. There’s a deep set fear and superstition pervading the town that’s subtly conveyed by director Herbert Wise.
The funeral is lonely affair though striking for Arthur who spots the mysterious presence of a woman dressed in black (Pauline Moran). The air of unease continues with the journey to Mrs Drablow’s pile, Eel Marsh house. An isolated location that can only be reached at certain times of the day across the marshes depending on the tide.
He finds a rundown, tired house, rooms cluttered with furniture and papers. Within all the detritus there is a wax cylinder recorder which is a diary describing mysterious goings on. Arthur becomes all too familiar with these goings on; the sounds of a carriage crash, terrified screams fill the air as a mist rises from the causeway. Shaken Arthur resolves to stay at the house in an effort to get the paperwork done.
Settling in (as best he can) he again hears the sounds of the carriage then compounded by the house’s creaks and groans and the sound of a child’s spectral voice and ball being bounced. It totally unnerves him but he continues his work uncovering what has and is going on with the Drablows and the house.
The first thing that strikes you is the beauty of the film restored from the original 16mm; colours are clear and the sound is exceptional which is crucial as the film relies so much on building atmosphere through it. This in turn creates a palpable presence for the viewer, completely enveloping them in the story.
The sequence where Arthur is trying to access the locked room blending voices, sounds, lights and music is absolutely terrific, torqueing up the tension to almost unbearable levels. Not that it jars the film; it fits in perfectly with the overhanging dread of the piece with Wise controlling the pace perfectly through to the conclusion. This is genuinely scary film that claws at the nerves of the viewer, and truth be told there aren’t that many that do that..
Rawlins is excellent in a tricky role that requires careful timing as the tension rises and not overplay Arthur’s terror. The rest, to a person, are faultlessly cast in their parts featuring a smorgasbord of familiar British actors including Bernard Hepton, Andy Nyman, Clare Holman and David Daker.
Why this BAFTA nominated masterpiece of television drama has gone unseen and virtually forgotten for so long is probably an interesting story and for another day. The important thing is that it is now available again, probably looking as good as it ever will, and you really ought to treat yourself to it.
• Feature version in full widescreen
• Limited edition, specially designed o-card packaging
• Audio commentary with horror experts Mark Gatiss, Kim Newman and star Andy Nyman
• Image gallery
• Booklet by Andrew Pixley