There’s a different kind of dread that suffuses Episode 2 of The Secret of Crickley Hall. It’s not the shocks and horror of last week, it’s not even ghostly. It’s a very real spectre of the past. And though it sounds like a clichéd tag-line from a horror B-movie, this is an episode that proves there is one thing scarier than the dead, and that’s the living.
While there are plenty of supernatural shenanigans, they’re neither as terrifying nor as compelling as events unfurling on the mortal coil. Gabe (Tom Ellis) finding Cribben’s punishment log book, fat with years of recorded abuse, opens a door onto the past that many would rather be left locked, either because they’re too afraid or too ashamed.
Given the real-world endemic secrecy and insidious practices we’ve seen bubble to the surface in the media in recent times it’s easy to project our own knowledge and feelings of what is real onto a piece of drama, but as you watch the routine of cover-ups, the misguided denials of Cribben’s iron rule, and his particular persecution of German orphan Stefan Rosenbaum, you can’t help but feel a cold shiver at the familiarity of certain aspects. Real or as a work of fiction, there’s no more restless terrible spirit than the spectre of child abuse.
As these secrets are uncovered the dual-time narrative is used to greater effect, with events across the decades folding closer together and beginning to darkly reflect one another: Nancy sneaking into the orphanage in 1943 echoes Loren’s bully breaking in to Crickley Hall in the present, Eve’s investigations mirror Nancy’s search for proof against Mr Cribben.
Determined to unearth the past in the hope of getting in touch with her son Cam, Eve (Suranne Jones) brings in psychic Lili Peel, played by Susan Lynch, who brings such sorrow and sympathy to a character who could easily be treated as a kook. Her performance during the attic séance is as unnerving as it is moving, but Lynch is just one of a well-thought and talented cast who keep our attention in between the ghostcapades.
Olivia Cooke is a compelling plucky heroine right until her demise, while spellcheck nightmare Iain De Caestecker plays the young Percy Judd with marvellous depth as he moves from cocky local lad to caring soldier, although for all the attempt made to make them look similar it still doesn’t feel as though he and David Warner are the same man across time.
A much superior piece of physical casting is that of Donald Sumpter playing parapsychologist Gordon Pyke who, even before it’s revealed in the ominous cliffhanger ending, is a dead ringer for creepy prefect Maurice (anyone guess correctly before it was revealed?). It seems he’s returned to Crickley to prevent the truth from escaping, just as he did decades ago by killing Nancy to stop her revealing his affair with Magda Cribben.
What dreadful lengths will he go to this time? We’ll find out next week in what looks to be a thrilling conclusion to a great Sunday night drama.
Aired at 9pm on Sunday 25 November 2012 on BBC One.
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