In Review of… The Haunting of Bly Manor
2018’s The Haunting of Hill House, loosely based on Shirley Jackson’s novel of the same name was a superb horror drama. Directed and created by Mike Flannagan, whose other work includes the recent film adaptation of Steven King’s Doctor Sleep and the horror film Occulus, the first installment of a proposed Haunting Anthology, was a wonderully written, acted and directed show that has received much high praise.
Full of scares, and a multitude of ghosts and spooks that, on a single watch you may have not even noticed were there, Hill House really got under your skin, teasing and taunting (and haunting) the viewer over it’s 10 episodes, that were shown and still haunt the watchlists on Netflix. Given time to flesh out the characters who, generally, would be superficial and fleeting in a 90 minute horror film, the show gave you time to care for the main cast, both in their adult (and through flashbacks) their younger life at the house and the horrific events that would eventually draw them back there.
Fast forward to 2020, a year already full of shocks and horrors of its own, and the second of Flannagan’s offering in the afore mentioned Haunting Anthology arrived, once again, on Netflix in the form of The Haunting of Bly Manor.
With such high expectations, this time around, the second installment is based on works by Henry James, and, in particular, another highly-regarded work of horror fiction, his 1898 novella, The Turn of the Screw. Many of cast from the The Haunting of Hill House also return, though in different roles, as this is a standalone tale, not connected to the first season.
Set primarily in 1987, this wonderfully narrated gothic tale follows the story of Dani Clayton, wonderfully played by Victoria Pedretti (Once Upon a Time in America). Dani is an American living in London, who we meet at the start of the show as she heads for an interview to become an Au Pair at Bly Manor.
Henry Clayton is a wealthy, yet lonely lawyer and troubled man, who is looking for a governess to look after his niece and nephew, who have come into his care. Somewhat troubled by her own past, Dani gets the job and travels to Bly Manor to take up her role and fill the shoes of the previous Au Pair, who has departed in mysterious circumstances. She arrives at the manor after being picked from her hostel by Bly’s chef, Owen. Deciding to walk up the drive to the manor, unlike the former Au Pair, who arrived by stately car driven by Lord Wingrave’s chauffer Peter Quint, played by another series regular, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, who relishes his role, once again.
Greeted by the housekeeper Mrs Grose and the incredibly polite two young children who she will be taking care of, Miles and Flora, Dani is welcomed to the manor and, as young Flora puts it, everything is going to be ‘Perfectly splendid!”
As with Hill House, Bly Manor has a small, yet superb cast. Bly Manor is a more welcoming house, compared to the foreboding look and sense of dread that filled the hallways of Hill House. However, looks can be decieving, and it is not long before things begin to overshadow her arrival, hinting at the dark events that have left their mark on the manor and all who have lived and currently live there.
At only 9 episodes, you could be forgiven for thinking that The Haunting of Bly Manor would feel rushed, but in fact, it is the opposite to its predecessor. It is a slow burner, not without its scares, as the title would suggest, but underlying it all, is a sense of foreboding, that creeps slowly under your skin as each episode passes. Ultimately, however, it is a beautifully told story of love. It’s not without its faults, but I would be doing it a disservice to pick out minor niggles of the pacing and, at times, some of the narrative cohesion during flashbacks, when I should focus more on the enjoyment I had from watching Bly Manor, and, particualrly for the acting of all involved – especially the two young actors Benjamin Evan Ainsworth (Miles) and Amelia Bea Smith (Flora).
As with The Haunting of Hill House, the young actors in both shows were amazing, and as both Dani and the viewer discover that these two likeable young children have their own problems, their wonderful acting shines through, both captivating and shocking in equal measure.
As episodes play out and those caring for the children struggle with their behaviour and the events around them, the two young actors hold their own alongside their older counterparts; the housekeeper Hanna Grose (wonderfully potrayed by T’Nia Miller – Sex Education), the gardener Jamie (Amelia Eve – Idéar) and cook Owen Sharma (Rahul Kohli – iZombie).
All have done their best to care for the children at the manor, following the deaths of their parents and the misfortune that happened to their last Au Pair, Miss Jessell (Tahira Sharif – Waterloo Road). With their guardian Lord Wingrave in London, reluctant to return to the manor or involve himself directly with their care (played by Henry Thomas – yes, he really was Elliott in E.T: The Extra Terrestrial) – the house has struggled, and as the shadows deepen around them all, the show truly hits its stride.
Fans of the The Haunting of Hill House, expecting more of the same, may well be disappointed by the slower pace of the second offering – but what The Haunting of Bly Manor may lack in terms of its ghost-count, it evens things up with a beautifully told and acted sequel in the Anthology, that is as haunting in its sad theme of undying love as it is with the shocks and thrills along the way.
Flora would not have said this, but the Haunting of Bly Manor is almost ‘Perfectly Splendid!’
The Haunting of Bly Manor (The Haunting Anthology: Season 2)
Number of Espisodes: 9
My rating: 8/10
Watched on: Netflix