Lightfields episode 1 review

The sequel of sorts to Marchlands, Lightfields, gets off to a bit of a spluttering start. Spoilers lie within...

This review contains spoilers.

You might recall, a couple of years ago, that ITV put together an effective little five-part chiller by the name of Marchlands. It did solid ratings, and we heard whispers that a Marchlands 2 was being discussed back then. Turns out, those whispers had some substance to them: while Lightfields isn’t a full-on sequel, its link to Marchlands is fairly obvious, and suitably played up in the promo material.

Lightfields, as with its predecessor, is a five part spooky story, that shares one central location between three different sets of people, in three different eras. These people start off unrelated, but if all of their lives aren’t utterly intertwined in some way by the end of the fourth episode, I’ll eat four Pot Noodles back to back. Even by the end of this opener, you can start working on your Venn diagrams.

The setting is the Lightfields farmhouse (you’ll be reminded of this lots of times in the episode, so don’t worry if you forget), and this time, we follow three families. So there’s the Felwoods in 1944, Vivien and her daughter Clare in 1975, and a whole new collection of Felwoods in 2012. As you might expect, this opening episode spends a reasonable amount of time setting all of this up, but it also throws in a few events to get things moving too. CG fire is an uncredited member of the cast list.

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The 1940s segment is like a live action take on The Archers, albeit at first with less scandal and drama. Complete with animal noises in the background to get across that true farmyard feel, everyone talks in broad accents, and we spend most of our time here – at least for now – in the company of late teens Lucy Felwood, and the new farm volunteer, Eve. They giggle a bit and talk boys and stuff, while crops look steadfast and proud in the background. Their taste in knitwear is also beyond reproach.

However, into their lives arrives an American airman, who comes between them within ten screen minutes of them starting to get on. It doesn’t take long for this, the episode’s least interesting strand, to become the most consequential. And the events here are bound to have ramifications through the ages. To be fair, we didn’t guess that: we worked that out from the gravestone we see in 1975, which tells us Lucy dies in 1944. The bloody big fire at the end was something of a clue, too.

That said, there were further clues littered around to suggest all not being well.

In the 1975 segment, we learn that Lightfields has now been unoccupied for some time. It’s as if something bad had happened there, wouldn’t you know. Background animal noises, by this stage, are long gone, replaced by the tingly noises that appeared to be on loop during Marchlands. In one early scene, the tingly music signposts something bad about to happen as young Claire explores her new temporary home. She dutifully shits her pants when a bird suddenly appears, fails to read the signs, and then starts playing with a tape recorder. A tape recorder! The silly sausage. The sound effects department can barely wait to start adding strange noises there, as another horror cliche is dutifully ticked off the list.

The immediately obvious glue that’s holding all this together, though, is Pip (1944 Tom also turned up in 1975. You following this?). He’s nine when we meet him 1944, and we see him 68 years later with a knowing look on his face as he returned again to Lightfields. And thus, whilst most of the chatter in the modern day segment is about bad parents, and the word prat (we thought that was a bit of a lost word until Lightfields turned up), this era of the story has the added ingredient of someone who knows exactly what fit hit the shan.

Lightfields, in truth, relies on a very familiar box of tricks. Marchlands did too, and worked doubly hard to make a middling impact with its material. Few revere it as any kind of classic, but it was decent entertainment, with a couple of really good jumps. Lightfields has a tougher job though, especially as we’re all even more familiar with the formula now. Also, The Secret Of Crickley Hall was on the Beeb at the end of last year, and seemed to cover much of this ground, and cover it better.

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That’s not to say Lightfields is without merits. It’s just not always that clever, and nor does it assume you are. If anything, it’s ambition it lacks. By relying on the structure of Marchlands, it already feels as though the series is shackled just a little. Maybe I’m wrong. After all, writer Simon Tyrell is nobody’s fool. But Lightfields has got some work to do to prove it’s more than a retread of what we got a year or two back.

As for the execution of his writing? Ad breaks rarely help spooky stories, and that’s inevitably true here. But one episode in, and lots of ghost story staples are being thrown in. Lights under the door, darkness, people creeping up behind others and making them jump, faces in the mirror that sort of thing. But just because we know the formula of the genre, it doesn’t mean it’s not good fun.

Lightfields could really, really use tempering its use of score, or at least the predictability of it though. Thus far, the music signposts every surprise a country mile off, and it really doesn’t help at all. It’s supposed to up the tension, but it all but removes it at times. Still, music aside, those behind the camera clearly enjoy setting up moments of reasonable tension, and they prove quite good at it.

It’s all a bit daft then, with a mix of thus-far straightforward plot points, and a good chunk of business got through in the best part of three quarters of an hour. It crackles along at a Downton Abbey-style pace at times, but while the individual moments sometimes work, there doesn’t feel like too much of interest holding it together at the moment.

It’s not a bad opening episode, but it doesn’t convincingly address the question, at least not yet, as to whether there was narrative room for a Marchlands sequel of sorts in the first place.

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