For an author or his prolific and reputation, on the surface it would appear odd that so few have attempted to adapt James Herbert’s novels to the screen before, although with further inspection uncovering underlying themes of child abuse, paedophilia and mass murder, this reticence becomes understandable. Such is the hypnotic and beguilingly compelling nature of The Secret Of Crickley Hall, however, you may start to wish that more people had taken the plunge.
Starting off in present day, a family move to the titular country house on a vague, job-based pretext a year after the disappearance of their youngest member. Having shared a slight psychic bond with her son, mother Eve (Suranne Jones) starts to hear his voice again, at which point the narrative dovetails into flashbacks to 1943, in which young teacher Nancy (Olivia Cooke) becomes worried about the welfare of the evacuated orphans the hall houses, where the frosty Magda Cribben (Sarah Smart) and her sadistic, war-damaged brother Augustus (Douglas Henshall) rule with an iron rod.
Her subsequent investigation has tragic consequences that spiral into present day, where they threaten to envelope Eve and her family as they attempt to prevent history, influenced by the sinister ghosts of the hall’s macabre past, from brutally repeating themselves.
Ghost stories are perhaps more susceptible than most other tropes of descending into cliché, and The Secret Of Crickley Hall is occasionally guilty of this, but it makes up for any slight failings in this regard with a story that is by turns heartbreaking and hopeful; full of regret for the horrors of war and the butterfly effect of pain its ripples cause, yet ultimately optimistic of our capacity to recover.
Jones and Tom Ellis as the father Gabe make for an utterly convincing prism of a couple frozen in grief but striving to live life, while Henshall impresses with a stunning performance that commands the screen despite barely raising a voice an octave. Other honourable mentions go to the likes of Iain De Caestecker and Maisie Williams in what is an excellent ensemble performance.
Deceptively tricky, The Secret Of Crickley Hall will keep you guessing while mostly resisting falling into gimmickry. Most stories of this ilk quickly fade in the memory, but Joe Ahearn has done justice to James Herbert’s source material, and puts forward the case for more of it to receive similar treatment.