TV review: The Secret of Crickley Hall; Last Tango in Halifax

The Secret of Crickley Hall. Photo: Laurence Cendrowicz/BBC
The Secret of Crickley Hall. Photo: Laurence Cendrowicz/BBC

Most artistic endeavours carry with them a fundamental and irrefutable acid test that establishes whether they have achieved their aim or not. If you laugh throughout a comedy, it’s fair to assume you found it funny. If you weep at the end of a drama, chances are it moved you. If a song is stuck in your head – sorry, music snobs – it means you like it. Yes it does, don’t argue.

Following the same criteria, I can confidently declare The Secret of Crickley Hall to be a very successful ghost story, because it well and truly scared the bejesus out of me.

So much so that I abandoned watching it while home alone in the evening, and picked up on the remainder at work during the spook-free safety of daylight hours. How feeble is that? Even allowing for the fact that I am a great, soppy scaredy-cat, this three-part adaptation of James Herbert’s novel remains an impressive, atmospheric and chillingly effective piece of storytelling.

Suranne Jones and Tom Ellis star as a young couple mourning the disappearance and presumed death of their young son. With the first anniversary of their loss approaching, they and their two remaining children decamp to Yorkshire for a change of scene.

At which point the drama asks for some serious suspension of disbelief from its audience. First we have to go along with the idea that the family’s choice of home from home is a cold, creaking, isolated, creepy and wholly uninviting mansion in a place called Devil’s Cleave. Second, that they can all function emotionally so soon after such a terrible trauma. I felt I was more upset about the loss of their son than any of them seemed to be.

However, all misgivings rapidly evaporate as soon as things start to go bump in the night. Their new home, it transpires, was formerly an orphanage run along brutally disciplinarian lines by a pair of sadistic siblings. The series alternates between the present day and the tragic events of 1943, with the crossover between the two time zones providing furtive ground for supernatural shenanigans.

The performances are all uniformly excellent, but special mention has to be made of Douglas Henshall’s terrifying turn as the orphanage’s soft spoken but sinister proprietor Augustus Cribben. Set against him is the equally impressive Olivia Cooke as Nancy Linnet, an idealistic young teacher who tries in vain to protect her terrified young charges.

Anne Reid (Celia) and Derek Jacobi (Alan) in Last Tango in Halifax. Photo: BBC/Red Productions/Helen Turton

There’s nothing too shocking about Last Tango in Halifax, a rather sweet and gentle love story in six parts about two elderly singletons who rekindle their romance from 60 years earlier.

Episode one features an incident of juvenile crime and a car chase, but that is about as racy as things get. Instead, the production wisely concentrates on its two leads, Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid, as they quietly go about their business of acting everyone else off the screen. Nicola Walker and Sarah Lancashire, as the couple’s respective grown-up daughters, are provided with substantial subplots of their own, but it will be the incomparable Jacobi and Reid that will draw and hold the audience.

The Secret of Crickley Hall, BBC1, Sunday, November 18, 9pm
Last Tango in Halifax, BBC1, Tuesday, November 20, 9pm

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