The Halloween season is almost upon us, so brace yourselves for the annual onslaught of horror fare. But we’re also getting a good old-fashioned spooky ghost story with the Netflix series, The Haunting of Bly Manor, loosely based on The Turn of the Screw while incorporating several other ghost stories by Henry James. The series is showrunner Mike Flanagan’s highly anticipated follow-up to 2018’s exquisitely brooding The Haunting of Hill House. The first teaser dropped earlier this month, and now the streaming platform has released the full trailer.
(Spoilers for the Henry James novel below.)
The Haunting of Hill House shared the top spot in Ars’ 2018 list of our favorite TV shows with BBC’s Killing Eve. We loved Mike Flanagan and Trevor Macy’s inventive reimagining of Shirley Jackson’s classic novel, at once a Gothic ghost story and a profound examination of family dysfunction. It stayed true to the tone and spirit of the original, aided by dialogue, narration, and other small details from the source material. Small wonder that it garnered award nominations from the Motion Picture Sound Editors, Writers Guild of America, and Art Directors Guild.
Rumors of a possible second season began swirling soon after the series started streaming, and they were confirmed in February of last year. Flanagan’s plan was to turn the series into a horror anthology, with a whole new ghost story and fresh characters. He opined in an interview with Entertainment Weekly that the Crain family featured in Hill House had suffered enough, and as far as he was concerned, its story had been told. But several cast members will return in Bly Manor, albeit playing different characters: Victoria Pedretti, Henry Thomas, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Catherine “Katie” Parker, and Kate Siegel.
As I wrote previously, The Turn of the Screw, published serially in Collier’s Weekly in 1898, tells the story of a governess hired to look after two orphaned children by their absent uncle at his Essex country house, Bly. Soon after arriving, the governess sees figures of a man and woman she suspects may be spirits. She learns from the grim housekeeper that her predecessor, Miss Jessel, had an affair with another servant, Peter Quint, and both died. They also seemed to have had an unhealthy attachment to the children, Flora and Miles, and the governess suspects the children can see the ghosts, too. Since we’re talking Henry James here, it ends in tragedy.
Literary scholars and critics have been debating the novella ever since it was first published because James was deliberately ambiguous as to whether the governess is seeing actual ghosts or simply going mad and imagining them. That debate carried over to the 1961 British Film adaptation, The Innocents, starring Deborah Kerr—probably the best of the many versions of the tale that have been adapted for various media. The initial screenwriter, William Archibald, assumed the ghosts were real; director Jack Clayton preferred to be true to James’ original ambiguity.
The most recent film adaptation, The Turning, released earlier this year, is the worst of the bunch by far, despite a solid performance by star Mackenzie Davis. (Finn Wolfhard of Stranger Things costars as Miles.) In that instance, director Floria Sigismondi—best known for 2010’s The Runaways and several music videos—largely went with the “insane governess” hypothesis, although the ending is deliberately ambiguous on that score.
We’ll have to wait to see which direction Flanagan takes with Bly Manor, but my money’s on at least some of the ghosts being real, judging by the trailer. The official synopsis is very brief: “Dead doesn’t mean gone. An au pair plunges into an abyss of chilling secrets in this gothic romance from the creator of The Haunting of Hill House.” The trailer gives little else away, but it does set an appropriately sinister tone and whets the appetite for the full series.
The Haunting of Bly Manor starts streaming on Netflix on October 9, 2020.
Listing image by Netflix