The Haunting of Bly Manor is a nine-part limited series on the Netflix streaming platform. The series is produced by the same creative team (headed by writer-director Mike Flanagan) that made the popular Haunting of Hill House. The two narratives are not connected whatsoever.
Significantly, the Haunting of Bly Manor is a loose adaptation of the 1898 horror novella The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. The story revolves around a governess who, caring for two children at a remote estate, becomes convinced that the grounds are haunted.
The series is set in 1987 and the story is told by a narrator (Carla Gugino) at a wedding. Stylistically, while the series is ostensibly a horror story with ghosts, it can probably be more accurately described as supernatural drama. Our story analysis follows, with spoilers.
The lead character is Danielle “Dani” Clayton (Victoria Pedretti) described as the “au pair” by the narrator. She is an expat American living in the UK with a troubled past. Clayton is hired by Henry Wingrave (Henry Thomas) to look after his niece (Flora, played by Amelie Bea Smith) and nephew (Miles, played by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) at the family country house (viz. Bly Manor) after they fall into his care.
Amongst the staff at Bly Manor are housekeeper Hannah Grose (T’Nia Miller), gardener Jamie (Amelia Eve) and chef Owen Sharma (Rahul Kohli). The previous au pair Rebecca Jessel (Tahirah Sharif) had been found drowned in the estate lake. Jessel was romantically involved with the butler Peter Quint (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) but is missing at the beginning of the series.
The story events take place mainly at Bly Manor, as the title suggests. And while the story takes an episode and a half to really get going, once it does, it gets really interesting. Well, that is, until the last two episodes where the revelations to solve the various mysteries are found to be rather silly.
The problem with a ghost story is of course, the making of rules that govern your story. For example, can a ghost impact the physical realm? If so, why? Aren’t ghosts supposed to be immaterial? How then can they affect physical objects and even humans?
Now, we are led to believe that the cause of the ghostly activity at Bly Manor is down to one particular ghost – Viola Lloyd – who is only introduced in the penultimate episode. And through the force of her will alone? How does that work? Viola’s ghost is made out to be unstoppable but the au pair Clayton actually does so with a deus ex machina. Not only that, but that story device does not even work in the same way as previously established! Ludicrous.
Which is a pity because up to episode seven, the various revelations were quite powerful and the relationships between the characters were well developed. One point to note that it is rather grating that in 2020, a series like this is rated R21 purely because there is a lesbian relationship depicted. Seriously. So embarrassing that Singapore is still so narrow minded. That is probably the real horror!
Thus, if you – like me – were a fan of the Haunting of Hill House and were expecting more the same, then you would be disappointed. However, if you can skip past the silly plot points and focus instead on the characters (marvellously well acted in most instances), then I will recommend that you catch The Haunting of Bly Manor.
… still there’s more …