by Sabrina Fearon-Melville
Victoria Pedretti is fast becoming a Netflix favourite, having appeared previously as Love Quinn in Netflix’s psychological thriller You, and Nell Crain in The Haunting of Hill House. Pedretti takes on a familiar, yet entirely different role in The Haunting of Bly Manor.
Having created the original The Haunting series, Mike Flanagan has returned to his role as creator/director to bring us another gothic horror this time inspired by Henry James’ (1898) novel The Turn of the Screw. Using the names found in James’ novel, Bly Manor weaves a tale of an American nanny (Pedretti) hired by a family to look after two children in the titular Bly Manor after the death of their previous nanny.
Throughout the series we see many stories intertwined in Bly Manor – from the cook, Owen (Rahul Kohli), to housekeeper Ms. Grose (T’Nia Miller), to gardener, Jamie (Amelia Eve) – each character has a part to play in the life and day to day running of Bly. Yet it is with the everyday operations of Bly that we are introduced to its ghostly happenings, something we are no strangers to, given the gothic elements involved in the series and its proximity to the show’s predecessor.
Similarly to Hill House, in The Haunting of Bly Manor, we are introduced to a script that is often confusing. Time is distorted throughout the series and as viewers, we are left wondering which scene will reveal answers to the questions we have as the show progresses. Dani mirrors the viewers in more ways than one. As the protagonist we see Bly Manor through her eyes, the ghosts she sees, and are haunted by the events that haunt her. Because we discover Bly at the same time she does, we uncover the story together and in this come to realise just how different Bly is from its elder sibling Hill House. Where its precursor is a tale of familial grief Bly Manor is instead a story of love, gothic love, but love all the same.
Showrunner and creator, Mike Flanagan, states that – “Gothic Romance is often misunderstood – something about the word “romance” lends itself to expectations of something tawdry, syrupy. Sappy even.” And indeed, while there are most definitely “sappy” elements in Bly Manor, as all of Flanagan’s characters encounter love (whether it be familial or romantic), nothing ever stays “sappy” for too long.
The ghosts of Bly roam around the manor, each with their own agenda, and as the season progresses we come to understand them and how their stories affect Dani and her charges Flora (Amelie Bea Smith) and Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth). Smith and Ainsworth do an excellent job in their roles as young children who have yet to truly wrap their heads around the grief that has befallen them. Flora and Miles, upon the death of their parents, have been left in the hands of their caring yet distant uncle, Henry Wingrave (Henry Thomas). Both children are home-schooled and fit the traditional home-schooled tropes: they are each other’s best friends, are constantly using a wide range of big words, and often putting on plays that no-one in Bly actually asked for. It’s endearing, if not a little annoying, for the first half of the series but like all things at Bly Manor, everything has been scripted for a particular reason.
In terms of acting, every actor does an amazing job of feeding back into their roles. It’s like they’ve taken these highly specific roles adapted from James’ novel and made them into their own, embodying the Haunting franchise perfectly.
Old hands such as Henry Thomas, Victoria Pedretti, and a few other Haunting familiar faces do well to bring Bly, and the horror within it, to life.
In contrast to its predecessor, The Haunting of Bly Manor focuses less on ghosts we can’t see and more on the lives of those people living with ghosts. Although slow to start the last two episodes work well to tie the entire narrative together.
Whilst nothing like Hill House, Bly Manor will definitely do well with those looking for more romance than jump scares this October.