Crooked House (2008)
The BBC has a history of supernatural dramas broadcast over the festive season. During the seventies and eighties, they have frequently adapted classic ghost stories by such authors as M. R. James, Charles Dickens, and Hector Hugh Munro aka Saki. In late 2008 BBC Four broadcast Crooked House; a three-part ghost story shown on consecutive nights from 22nd to 24th December. It was written and co-produced by actor and writer Mark Gatiss, of The League of Gentlemen fame. The three inter-linked episodes form a portmanteau story, influenced by the works of M. R. James and Amicus compendium horror films of the seventies.
The plot centres on the ghostly history of Geap Manor, a recently demolished Tudor mansion. The stories are relayed by local Historian (Mark Gatiss) to local resident Ben (Lee Ingleby), who has discovered an old door knocker from the manor house. The first story, "The Wainscoting", set in the late 18th century, centres around Joseph Bloxham (Philip Jackson), who has boughtand started renovating the Manor. It would appear that he has greatly profited from an investment which ruined his fellow speculators. Strange noises are heard behind the newly installed wainscoting, along spectral blood stains. Is this due to the timber coming from the gallows known as “Tyburn Tree”?
The second vignette, "Something Old", takes place in the twenties, while Geap Manor hosts a decadent costume party. During the evening Felix de Momery announces his engagement to Ruth, much to the surprise and annoyance of his Grandmother (Jean Marsh) and his friends, Billy and Katherine. It is not long before a ghostly bride stalks young Ruth, forcing a long-kept family secret in to the open. In the final contemporary set tale, "The Knocker", Ben foolishly puts the knocker from demolished Geap Manor on his own door. Recently split from his partner, his modern suburban home proves no protection from sinister forces from the past and the spirit of Sir Roger Widdowson.
Writer and actor Mark Gatiss has produced not only a loving homage to the portmanteau genre but constructed a thoroughly creepy and unsettling drama. Crooked House displays a sound knowledge of history with a lot of detail and period slang which embellishing the proceedings. However, unlike other writers, he successfully balances narrative ambiguity with the need to shows enough of the supernatural to appeal to a broader audience. Performances, production design, soundtrack and visual effects are all of the calibre audiences expect from the BBC. Crooked House is a throwback to a genre that has become quite a rarity in recent years. I was strongly reminded of the TV series Hammer House of Horror. Crooked House successfully bridges the divide between old and new producing a drama that is pitched perfectly for a modern audience.