Joe Ahearne’s adaptation of James Herbert’s novel kicks off with a spooky first part that provides some genuine chills while never quite plumbing the depths of nastiness that the original story contains. For those who know the book, there’s a great deal of detail added with regard to what, in there, are flashback sections; to those coming to it new, it bears some similarities both to Leonard Jeffries’ ghost story The Amazing Mr Blunden, and to the moderately recent ITV serial Marchlands.
The story is told in two eras: a contemporary tale of grief and unexpected events, centring on Suranne Jones and Tom Ellis’ characters; and the events of 1943, where Douglas Henshall rules the roost in a children’s home. There are links between the two, which are indicated by some clever cutting between scenes and an overlay of information. At times as viewers, you are slightly ahead of the central characters, but not so much that you lose interest in what happened in the past sections. It’s a tricky balancing act, but on the basis of this opener, Ahearne has pulled it off.
It’s not comfortable viewing at time, particularly for anyone who cares about or who has children, but it’s a ghost story, and, unusually, we’re getting to see how the ghosts come to be, as well as what they’re doing now. Watch it carefully: important details are sometimes hidden in plain sight.
Verdict: A strong cast, including some very good child actors, maintain the credibility of this spooky tale. 7/10