On the face of it, ITV1’s recent five-part supernatural drama is an exercise in tired horror cliché and cheap TV gimmicks.
Yes, Marchlands’ story concerns the mysterious drowning of a young girl and is thus awash in staple horror imagery of scary girls and spooky water. And true, the programme’s central conceit of telling the story through three different families living in the same house in three different time periods could strike one as a relatively cheap plot device. However, it’s this latter element that the programme handles brilliantly.
Each decade (1960s, 1980s and the present day) has a distinctive look and each separate story is given enough room to develop, with the central mystery masterfully weaved through all of them. There’s a lot of attention to detail too – the intercutting between each year is very skilfully and entertainingly done and the direction is generally strong throughout. Seeing as the series is based on an America pilot, extra credit should be given to the production team, and former Doctor Who writer Stephen Greenhorn for giving the series feel a distinctively British feel.
Describing Marchlands as a horror may be pushing it a bit; it’s more an exercise in tension and atmosphere. In fact, the series only ever loses its way with some scares that seem a bit perfunctory. If anything, Marchlands is essentially a story about family, with each time period’s group dealing with their own complicated set of relationship dramas.
The pace is kept deliberately slow throughout, which can be a danger in mysteries like this if the final revelations don’t provide a satisfying pay-off. Fortunately, the concluding episode draws the gently-expanding plot strands together nicely, even if it never quite delivers the shock twists of our own imaginations.
With an extremely solid cast holding together the ropier moments, including Alex Kingston taking a turn as a Yorkshire mother alongside TV veterans Denis Lawson and Anne Reid and rising star Jodie Whittaker, Marchlands is a worthwhile investment and a credit to original British programming.
Released on DVD on Monday 7th March 2011 by ITV Studios Home Entertainment.
Watch the trailer…