Dir.: Lenny Abrahamson; Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, Charlotte Rampling, Will Poulter, Liv Hill; UK/Ireland/France 2018, 111 min.
Lenny Abrahamson’s big screen adaption of the Sarah Waters’ Gothic novel, set in rural Warwickshire in 1948, is less a horror yarn more a portrait of Britain just after WWII – though Ole Birkland’s imaginative images of the romantic settings will please genre addicts.
Middle-aged country doctor Faraday (Gleeson) first visited Hundreds Hall, the seat of the aristocratic Ayres family, when he was eight, just after his mother had left her position as maid. Years later he fetches up at the dilapidated country estate to care for Roderick Ayres who has returned from WWII with terrible injuries. With deteriorating mental health, Faraday has him admitted to a psychiatric ward of the newly founded NHS. But there’s lots to be done: teenage maid Betty (Hill) feels unwell – the symptoms may be psycho-somatic, and Roderick’s sister Caroline (Wilson) seems to be spooked by uncanny events, culminating in the friendly family dog pouncing on a little girl who had come to visit. Rampling is now a widowed matriarch and equally obsessed by the secret of her youngest daughter Suky, who died of diphtheria when she was eight. Might she be the Poltergeist behind all the weird goings-on? Faraday is all stuff-upper-lip and scientific, but deep down he cares far more for the fate of the Ayres family – and their property business – than the Ayres himself, who seem not to cling as much to their country seat as Faraday, who falls in love with Caroline – who at first wants nothing more to be taken to London where Faraday has been offered work. But the good doctor wants to posses the stately home with all its trappings – however crumbling – more than the woman.
Lucinda Coxon’s script puts so much focus on Faraday’s losing battle to win over the trappings of Hundreds Hall, like he must have dreamt as a little boy, the tragic events and final denouement rather take us by surprise. And whilst Abrahamson succeeds in the character portrait, this dramatic thrust takes too much away from the horror elements which seem artificial at times. A strange, captivating drama which can’t make up its mind what genre it serves. AS
NATIONWIDE FROM FRIDAY 21 SEPTEMBER 2018