The Secret Of Crickley Hall episode 3 review

Review Louisa Mellor 2 Dec 2012 - 22:00

The BBC’s Sunday night ghost story concludes with a terrific final instalment. Here’s Louisa’s review…

This review contains spoilers.

Fittingly for an adaptation, Joe Ahearne’s The Secret of Crickley Hall ended with the satisfying catharsis of closing a good book. Answers were provided and characters were laid to rest, but not before the tense third act of Herbert’s ghost story had played merry havoc with the nerves of everyone watching.

From the moment Gabe drove away leaving Eve, Loren and Callie alone with the now-unmasked Maurice Stafford (Donald Sumpter), I was horridly transfixed. Sumpter made for such a wonderfully underplayed villain; calm, exhausted, and utterly resigned to fulfilling Cribben’s demand. “He only wants one of you”, he reasoned with the two children, “You’ve had a good life. You were… loved”. Like the police officer reassuring Gabe that “No one hurt him” after the identification of Cam’s drowned body, they were simple lines, but ones that concealed untold torment.

Like co-star David Warner, Donald Sumpter carries years of experience-gained gravitas with him, so having the two together on screen was a treat. The cast both period and present coped admirably with difficult scenes, though Suranne Jones outclassed the likeable Tom Ellis at most turns. Not that the young actors were overshadowed. Bill Milner, Maisie Williams, and little Pixie Davies proved themselves impressively capable, Williams particularly so.

Once the connection between young and old Maurice had been made, the resemblance between the two actors in manner and stance was unmistakable. Ahearne’s camera framed the pair in the same way, both eerily appearing unannounced in shadowy doorways, hunched and hand in pocket. 

Despite his horrific crimes, Maurice remained a victim in the eyes of the audience, and so retained our interest and – very nearly – our sympathy. In many ways he was a foil to Nancy; both were pitted against the sadistic zealotry of the Cribbens but one had the mettle to stand up to them, while the other folded himself to their will.

That Maurice’s true identity was revealed using some unassuming camera matching instead of maniacal laughter and a devilish ‘Yes, it was me all along!’ monologue only added to the quiet intensity of those parallel climactic scenes. Leaving his and Stefan’s fates unknown until the last instalment kept us guessing, and crucially, swept us up as much in the period story as in the present.

Though we knew the orphans’ deaths were coming, the manner of them was a macabre surprise (it must have occurred to more than a few of us that any flood would have a hard time reaching Crickley Hall’s attic). The promise of Cribben's suicide turning out to be an act of mass infanticide was a wicked, if not altogether unexpected, twist. Cribben having exacted a final, terrible punishment on his charges, Stefan responded with a terrifically apt revenge of his own. (How cruel, by the way, for a young Jewish boy to escape the German death camps only to face being gassed in England’s green and pleasant land.)

Cribben’s drugged feast was like something from a Grimm’s fairy tale, an obscene last supper for Crickley Hall's ill-fated orphans. Happily for Stefan, Nancy’s chocolate (or perhaps his having learned far too early that there’s no such thing as a free lunch) saved his life. Call it a sunset ending if you like, but in a story filled with atrocities, Stefan making it to a long and happy existence filled with love and kittens was exactly what I wanted to hear.

Less convincing was Lili’s nursing home visit to Magda, now a would-be hairpin murderess hiding her crimes behind fake catatonia. Like some of this week’s head-scratching edits (Lili Peel was called before the police?), and the suspension of disbelief required to accept that the Caleighs had cut through the required red tape to have Cam buried next to the adult Stefan, the Magda sequence wasn't a high point, though it did provide Percy with the knowledge of what really happened to his Nancy.

Nancy reappeared twice this week in very different forms. One, a ghoulish creature that wouldn’t look out of place in a zombie flick, and the other a Christ-like version of her young self, glowing with beatific strength, standing up to murderous bully Cribbens one last time. The well and hallway sequences made for great heightened viewing, even if the subsequent wrapping-up scenes were flavoured by the characteristic flatness we've come to expect from 'the morning after' in ghost stories.

At its heart, The Secret of Crickley Hall was a study of atrocity against the WWII backdrop of one of humanity’s darkest chapters. Herbert’s story showed how people are capable of wickedness, some due to madness, others to zealotry, cowardice, or - like Maurice - simply because they lack the strength to oppose it. Happily, the story had a much tidier, more comforting ending than its historical referent. Good won out, evil was punished, and we all shuffled off to bed a proper story told. Perfect Sunday night viewing, more like this please BBC.

Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode, here.

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I really enjoyed this. It wasn't so much a ghost story as a generational drama which happened to have ghosts in it - but that was not to its detriment. ITV's Marchlands, which had a very similar premise, could have learned a lot from this show.

Fingers crossed for a decent spooky Christmas ghost story which the Beeb always do so well...

What a bizarre review. I highly doubt the zombie Nancy in the well was CGI. Overall I enjoyed the show, laugh-ably unscary, yet a decent watch. This final episode was a bit of a mess plot wise, but I enjoyed it

Just watched the last part on catch up. Lots of scary moments and Just shows how well performed and such a compelling story this was that there was no way I was going to miss this final episode. Such a great story built up over the weeks and hoping for a happy ending in all the storylines. I did wonder if the ghosts would interveen as the story moved into the final moments or even the missing boy to return and save the day. Not so much a happy ending but a satisfying resolution the whole story was very sad and morose but makes you reflect on the unfairness in life.

A well told story but I think I need something a bit happier next Sunday night.

And they still killed the kid . The Zombie Nancy was unexpected and scred the crap out of me for some reason, then I decided to watch Alien Investiagtion on Channel 4 and that was so creepy, I wish I handy seen it now. But Cricky hall was good and the kitten was cute

I actually saw this in the states but broadcasted as one long movie (all 3 parts) just a few days before the first episode aired over here in the UK. I love the book (JH is one of my fave authors) and I thought that this dramatisation of it was just excellent.

I was totally confused, I could not make head or tale of it, Sorry I must be thick, I did not make the link between any of the characters in the flash back and the modern time sequences, What was the story behind the German boy, how did the children die ? were they drowned or gased. What was the link between the missing child and the children in the hall. In the first episode you saw the boy being carried away, yet in the final episode he had drowned. I thought it was total rubbish

Going to sound dumb but what happened to Cam? I didn't quite get that.

Cam was dead all along - almost since he disappeared. We weren't given the exact details of his death but his bloated body suggested he had fallen in the canal, drowned and then remained there for a year making his body unidentifiable apart from a small distinguishing mark on his finger which his father recognised at the viewing. The coroner suggested it was an accident as there were no other signs of violence on his body.

The voice Eve kept hearing was that of the ghost of one of the dead evacuees and she just mistook it for Cam as that was what she was hoping to hear.

It really wasn't very difficult to follow but in answer to your questions:

The German boy was a Jewish asylum seeker who was evacuated to the hall along with the other children. Cribben took an instant disliking to him because he saw him as one of the enemy so he singled him out for special punishment.

I have just rewatched the beginning of the first episode and you ware wrong - Cam, the modern day boy, is never seen being abducted. Eve closes her eyes, drops some books and then wakes up and he is gone. The boy being carried was in a flashback to 1943 and it was Stefan, the little German boy, being carried into the hall.

The parapsychologist in 2012 was actually the teenager, Maurice, who was a the kid working for Cribben in 1943. The old guy, Percy, who turned up at the end to help and was then knocked out by Maurice in 2012 was the gardener who went off to war in 1943 and then came back to try to help the children just as Nancy had. He lived with the guilt of only being able to save Stefan (who went on to live a full, happy life) for 69 years. The old woman who tried to kill the medium in the nursing home in 2012 was Magda, Cribben's sister, who ran the hall with him in 1943. She had pretended to be insane for 69 years so that she would not have to reveal what really happened the night of the flood and only dropped her pretence when it looked like the truth might come out.

The children were drugged by the feast Cribben left for them and then carried to the cellar and murdered by Cribben with carbon monoxide fumes from his car. However the flood, which came up from the overflowing well, made it look like drowning so there was no investigation. Likewise, Cribben's death was just attributed to drowning in the flood - no foul play suspected.

There was no link between the children in 1943 and Cam, the missing boy in 2012, that was the whole point. Eve was hearing the 1943 kids' spirits talking but because she wanted so much to hear her own son she, basically, deluded herself that it was him contacting her.

Thanks for that Paul, I must have missed a number of clues, the only thing I can say in my defence is that I am not alone, I posted a similar remark on my face book page and got a number of 'likes'. Perhaps I should only watch drama that has a begining, middle and end without flash backs.

No worries John. I've just read my post again and realised it sounded quite rude - which was not my intention. Sorry about that.

Thanks for that. Enjoyed the story overall, just couldn't link his disappearance in London to the discovery of his body in a canal miles up north.

I must have been watching a different show: no chills, no tension, no coherence, no point. It didn’t appear to know if it wanted to be a “Children of the Stones”/ “Amazing Mr. Blunden” type horror-for-kids, or an out-and-out adult-oriented drama, and fell so badly between those stools it couldn’t pick itself up.
It showed no insight or empathy for its characters, and thus just seemed to exploit hot-button issues (child-abuse and abduction, trauma victims, refugees), rather than offer a commentary upon them. Cribben was obviously a very damaged man, and his background in the war the source of his rages, but having Dougie Henshell stalk about bug-eyed made him a 2D cut-out, not a 3D being who could not find peace even after death; robbing him of any humanity made him even less of a villain, and never imbued him with the depths that would have made his post-mortem actions in some way believable.
Maurice was a child just as much a victim of abuse as the others, but that was neither a point for discussion, nor a mitigation for his actions, as he was just transformed into a stomping repeat of Cribben. A good programme would have foregrounded this - a great one would have used the material as an allegory for the damage that can live on years after an abuse has taken place.
It certainly wasn’t helped by some of the weakest “horror” on TV in years - the “Sarah Jane Adventures” dealt with horrors of loss, lonliness and ghosts *far* better and far more skilfully than this, and with certainly a better feeling for chills - repeated shots of a door opening or feet on a staircase does not a fright make, and as for the rubber mask and gloves of “Zombie Nancy”, well, the one thing that came to mind that the whole thing was going to have been revealed as the work of Mr. Sneedley the Janitor, à la “Scooby Doo”…
There’s room for good, thoughtful horror-drama on TV, and this certainly wasn’t it.

As with most dramas (Ashes to Ashes did this in the finale too) the drive from 'Up North' to London is a lot quicker on film! Although it seemed like minutes in the show it was probably a five hour plus journey each way for Gabe!

Just watched that scene again and I agree - the zombie/ghost of Nancy was make up rather than CG.

In your opinion.

Everything you say the show did not do I actually witnessed unfold on the screen in front of my eyes (i.e. foreshadowing of Maurice becoming like Cribben and this making a point about abuse lasting across generations, empathy for characters, Maurice as victim etc).

If I saw all that and you did not then surely the problem is not with the show...?

And the show was never advertised as "horror" - its entry on the BBC website describes it as a "haunted house drama" which cannot be denied.

Handy stuff - explains a few quibbles I had with the story too! Cheers matey!

There was no real motivation or character development explained for the killer (Cribbens/Douglash henshall) to do what he did. To me there was no tension building, apart from him caning children....and then they drowned. Maybe it seems very unrealistic compared to the real horror stories that have surfaced in recent years relating to care homes. Also Suranne Jones seemed to be acting mostly via her false eyelashes.

Cribben was harsh already but it escalated when he was forced to care for a German child - someone he viewed as an enemy and this drove him over the edge.

And, no, the children never drowned, Cribben drugged them into a stupor, carried them into the cellar and gassed them with his car exhaust fumes and then the flood, which overflowed through the well, made it look like they had drowned. This was intended for Stefan, the German boy, as the ultimate mental torture since he had escaped being gassed in Germany. However, because he wandered off instead of eating the drugged food, he was the only kid who didn't end up being murdered.

What I meant was, I didn't get how Cam went missing in London, and ended up dead in a canal near Crickley Hall, when his family had never been there before.

It was a bit of a random moment when his body is found in the canal, as Cam was nowhere near Crickley Hall when he went missing. It's hard to imagine how he would have ended up miles away from home by himself, in a canal close to Crickley Hall of all places, and even if he had been abducted, which as you said was not indicated by the footage, why would the kidnapper take him to the canal by Crickley Hall?

The body WAS found in London - just a short distance from where Cam vanished. Gabe had to drive back there to examine the body.

Ah sorry missed that little fact. The whole thing makes perfect sense now :)

A passage from the book that should clear things up for you:

"The thunder that followed the lightning was much louder now, as if it were rolling round the gorge itself, and its noise made Eve cringe. Gabe. She needed Gabe to be with her. But she had urged him not to drive all the way back from London. He would be weary with all the travelling, plus he must still be shocked, having had to identify Cam's little body (he hadn't told her how their son looked, but she realized that after a year in the water—No! she mustn't think of that, she mustn't try to picture the condition his body would be in!). She insisted that her mind should stay on Gabe. All she knew was that she needed him here, with her and the children. But he shouldn't drive, not all that way, not in this weather. Would he see sense and stay in London?"

I was impressed that Nancy forgave Cribbens, and invited him to join them as they moved on.

I a
m gutted I missed this. What happened to Nancy/ was she stabbed by Magda and how did Cribbens die?

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