Spoilers found it perfectly splendid.
This wasn’t a conscious choice. I was watching something else, where it took me several days to just get through the first episode, when this one popped into my radar and with the guilty conscience of series-hopping I jumped ship. I ate the first three episodes in one gulp and kept wanting more. If you are only looking for a scare, it might disappoint you. It can be frightful at times, sentimental at others but overall I found an engaging story at its core.
The Haunting of Bly Manor (2020) was created by Mike Flanagan, loosely based on Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw. After a tragic death, young American teacher named Danielle Clayton (Victoria Pedretti) is hired by Henry Wingrave (Henry Thomas) to care for his orphaned niece Flora (Amelie Bea Smith) and nephew Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth). Their home is Bly Manor, run by housekeeper Hannah Grose (T’Nia Miller), cook Owen Sharma (Rahul Kohli) and groundskeeper and gardener Jamie (Amelia Eve).
The story is literally framed as a ghost story, but despite some horror elements it plays more as a mystery romance of sorts. Viewers will be more intrigued than scared. The show also recasts a lot of its performers and filmmaker team from Mike Flanagan’s previous Netflix show The Haunting of Hill House, so I feel obligated to let you know I haven’t see that one. I won’t draw comparisons to it. I’m also going to ignore the framing device that is used to set up the storyteller/narrator simply because I prefer the full immersion approach.
Miss Clayton starts first as a rather cheerful soul, but as we begin to familiarize with her we already see hints of a dark past. She’s already bringing her own demons with her. Flora and Miles are charming and just a little too obnoxiously polite, but it’s obvious they’re hiding something. Hannah Grose is aloof and almost a little too distracted, which makes her a riddle to unravel. Owen is open and charming but harmless. That leaves Jamie, who seems distant but has quite a temper when someone messes with her plants.
The show does a great job about introducing the characters both in the present as well as in the past. That includes the likes of the previous governess Rebecca Jessel (Tahira Shariff), who Flora still thinks of fondly and previous employee Peter Quint (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) who is not particularly well-liked by Henry or the rest of the staff due to have stolen from the family’s finances. The show will later go even further into the manor’s past and slowly reveal a few mysteries that might explain the strange events of today.
As we start to look back into the past, the storytelling exposes an interesting twist as we learn that some of those flashbacks are actually a part of the current plot. This is happens around the time in which the story seems to have slow down, but it’s actually picking up. I found this element particularly compelling, although it does take away some of the frightful atmosphere. This is around where the show might have lost momentum, and hopefully it hasn’t lost you yet. I did enjoy the resolution to a point. The show seems compelled to draw on for a lengthy epilogue that I’m still on the fence about. I did love the story overall.
Recommended with slight reservations. The series has a strong beginning and a slowdown that might lose some audiences but picks up the pace as it moves towards a finale. The finale is quite satisfying, but I’d rather not have the lengthy overdrawn epilogue and would prefer to leave that part ambiguous. I liked the storytelling, although the framing device seems tacked on. The performances are adequate, the children are creepy and the characters both present and past are enthralling enough to make you keep watching. Despite the horror aspects, it’s more of a mystery ghost love story. Dead after all does not mean gone.
That will do for now.