The decision with this version of James’ often covered story is to change it to a prequel of sorts. In doing so, we see the kids not as inhabited by ghosts, but as perpetuators of the evil out of an unbelievable child-eyed curiosity. First of all, the performances without exception feel as though they are rejects from 70’s era Disney. The tone shifts from clumsy comedy to even clumsier (and sordid) sex. The children attempt to replicate what they see their adult counterparts doing, to an unconvincing affect. This feels like an allusion to the coupling of the corresponding ghosts in the original, but the logic doesn’t carry through, making the whole angle feel more like lurid perversion rather than supernatural coincidence.

Brando is pretty bad as Peter Quint. His accent is crap,the stories he tells are boring and meandering. He looks like he’s trying to be a role model to Johnny Depp rather than the two idiot kids. The sexual expression seems like a run up to Last Tango In Paris rather than something written in the 19th century.

Beacham’s attempts to demonstrate any sort of fondness for the lecherousness of Brando’s Quint feel less like human emotions than someone reading a script. Most of her scenes are just sad.

The kids spend much of their time asking stupid questions (and getting stupid answers from Brando). Their high pitched prancing and pranking with Mrs. Grose (Hird) is confusing. Is it supposed to be funny? It is not. It is two more examples of how bad kid acting can take someone right out of a film.

The Nightcomers is not interesting, not amusing and not scary. It has one scene worth mentioning (bow and arrows) but its not worth all of the crap leading up to it.

(* out of *****)

The Turning – 2020
Director Floria Sigismondi
Screenplay Carey W. Hayes, Chad Hayes based on The Turn of the Screw by Hey James
Starring Mackenzie Davis, Finn Wolfhard, Brooklynn Prince, Joely Richardson, Barbara Marten

This is an attempt to update the story. It doesn’t work, but at least its not The Nightcomers. Review in link above.

(** out of *****)

The Haunting of Bly Manor – 2020
Creator Mike Flanagan, Directors E. L. Katz, Axelle Carolyn, Yolanda Ramke & Ben Howling, Liam Gavin, Ciarán Foy,
Screenplay Mike Flanagan, James Flanagan, Diane Ademu-John, Laurie Penny, Angela LaManna, Rebecca Leigh Klingel, The Clarkson Twins, Leah Fong, Julia Bicknell based upon the works of Henry James
Starring Victoria Pedretti, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Amelia Eve, T’Nia Miller, Rahul Kohli, Tahirah Sharif, Amelie Bea Smith, Benjamin Evan Ainsworth, Henry Thomas

The Haunting of Bly Manor is much anticipated by those who saw Flanagan’s exceptional The Haunting of Hill House. It is a solid ride through the original story, augmenting with other stories of Henry James. The overall story is solid, if not particularly scary.

This time, Pedretti is Ms. Dani Clayton, the new governess, and she gives the role a full dimensional quality that all other performances lack. Her story unfolds at a slow, natural pace. We get the same lines and many of the same moments of the original story occur, but over the period of several loping episodes and backstories, it feels better than the original. The smooth transition from original, added and merged story elements allow Dani to get to know each of the supporting character.

The other characters benefit greatly due to this method. No one benefits more than T’Nia Miller and Rahul Kohli as Ms. Hannah Grose and one of the many new characters, cook Owen Shama. The wealth of new characters is not a death knell for their growth as full fledged people. We feel that this is a damaged, but altogether functioning set of people invested in the well being of the two children.

In contrast to The Nightcomers and beyond the mediocre work of The Turning, Flanagan and company give a complete vision of what is happening to the children. It makes complete sense, with regard to the original James version of the story. Flora and Miles are well written and played. They’re kids when they’re supposed to be, and otherwise when the situation clearly demands.

All of this bodes well for a nine part series. Flanagan understands that we need to have people we care about in order to hang around this long. And we do care about each of these characters, even the new visions of characters that were purely background in other stories. Eve’s Jamie, the gardener, is one of those who creeps in from the background, eventually taking a more important role.

As with the previous series, the climax of the series occurs before the last episode. This is interrupted with an episode going to great lengths to explain it for another episode. This separate episode, based on The Romance of Certain Old Clothes, provides the grist for the rest of the series. It’s a well told tale, and effectively told. Segal gives a distinguished performance as one of two sisters, Viola. That the sisters characterizations are switched from the original story is of less consequence, since the story is essentially the same.

If there is one niggling problem with The Haunting of Bly Manor, it’s not all that scary. The first several episodes build slowly. We know there are things to be frightened of, but they are not as creepy as Flanagan’s previous series. By the time we understand what is happening, shocking things happen along the way, but it their effect is muted by the fact that the characters keep repeating events. This is a process which is meant to explain the trap they’ve all fallen into over time. When we discover this, things become more like a math problem than something to fear.

Overall, the biggest challenge to this, the best adaptation of James’ work that I have seen (including a BBC movie which is pretty rote) is that it fails to live up to its director/producer Flanagan’s previous work. His is a bar that has been rising over the last decade. At some point, it’s bound to take a step or so back.

Of the three James’ inspired works, The Haunting of Bly Manor is the one that is truly inspired, even if it’s not as scary as we’d hope.

(**** out of ******)

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