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Thursday 23 October 2014

No secret to uncreepy Crickley

I'VE just finished rereading Salem's Lot by Stephen King. I have to say it spooked me out far more the second time around than it did 30 years ago. Weird, that; must be an age thing.

Or maybe it's just a testament to the enduring power and brilliance of King as a writer.

At any rate, novels that make you look over your shoulder before you turn the lights off and go to bed (especially when you keep telling yourself you're old enough to know better) are few and far between.

Television dramas that do the same are rarer still. The only ones that give me a proper tingle down the spine when I think of them are the BBC's celebrated adaptations of MR James's ghost stories, which used to be a staple of Christmas television.

The three-parter The Secret of Crickley Hall, based on a novel by James Herbert (once touted as Britain's answer to King, a label he's never quite lived up to) pumps the fright pedal furiously but fails to raise so much as a single chill.

Maybe it's because the material is so familiar. The troubled-family-move-to-a-haunted-house scenario has been overworked to death. The Secret of Crickley Hall gives it another flog for old times' sake.

Suranne Jones and Tom Ellis are Eve and Gabe, a prosperous enough couple with three children. In last week's opener, Eve dozed off while their youngest was playing in a playground and then awoke to find he'd gone missing. In one of those coincidences that only ever happen in ghost stories. Gabe, a structural engineer, gets a short-term contract coming up to the first anniversary of the child's disappearance, meaning the family has to decamp to the titular spooky old house, where things soon start to go bump in the night.

And well they might, because Crickley Hall has a dark history. As we see in a parallel flashback story set in 1943, it used to be a wartime orphanage run by the sadistic lord of the manor, Augustus Cribben (Douglas Henshall), and his equally nasty sister Magda (Sara Smart).

Cribben was fond of taking a cane to his charges, all of whom died, two of them believed drowned in the well in Crickley Hall's basement. He's still at it in the present day, running around as a very corporeal ghost and swiping people across the face. It's more silly than scary, to be honest.

It was business as usual on Peep Show, featuring David Mitchell and Robert Webb as the flatmates whose thoughts we can hear. I seem to be in the minority on this programme. It's been picking up awards and drawing rave reviews -- but only a small audience -- for years. Try as I might, though, I've just never been able to get into it.

Time may have moved on but Mark (Mitchell) and Jez (Webb) remain as juvenile as ever. And maybe that's the problem. The gimmick of having the characters say one thing while thinking another -- usually the exact opposite -- was novel at first. Even though there are still some moments of exquisitely tasteless squirminess, the gag is looking a bit long in the tooth eight series in.

It was back to form for Love/Hate after last week's instalment, which I thought (and I seem to be in a minority on this, too) was slightly underwhelming. The violence was more or less put on the back burner this week and the female characters were given more room to breathe. Siobhan feels the need to tell someone about her traumatic rape and chooses her friend Donna, who's not generally known for her discretion. It may be this that blows the lid off Nidge's dangerous dalliance with RIRA headcase Dano.

Meanwhile, Darren, having let Elmo walk last week, looks like he's about to become the fall guy. Just when you thing Love/Hate might be about to turn into a predictable tale of tit-for-tat killings, writer Stuart Carolan pulls something unexpected out of the bag.

Excellent.



The Secret of Crickley Hall 2/5 Peep Show 3/5 Love/hate 4/5

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