December 3, 2012

Marchlands (2011)

"A supernatural drama telling the story of three different families living in the same house in 1968, 1987 and the present day, linked by the spirit of the young daughter of the 1960s family, who drowned in mysterious circumstances."

I know I'm late to the party with this ITV miniseries (based on the pilot episode of "The Oaks" which never got picked up), but I didn't really know of its existence until I started watching "The Secret of Crickley Hall". Just by browsing online for details, there were so many people noticing the similarities that I just had to spend all my waking hours on Sunday watching the whole thing.

Incidentally, I was right about the conflated ending of "The Secret of Crickley Hall" being changed from that of the novel and going out with more of a whimper than a bang. They almost got away with not having an "uzzz" in it until the very end though.

I still don't know why the setting was changed for "The Secret of Crickley Hall" to the North of England (i.e. just outside Leeds in West Yorkshire), but I've noticed that it's just one of those British TV conventions which has been going on for years. Right back to the later "Ghost Stories for Christmas", there were attempts to Northernise M.R. James. I assume that it has something to do with "otherness" and the imaginary "North-South divide" which makes the North of England seem to be a barren and uncivilised place full of superstition compared to the South, but you know they do have indoor toilets, television and the internet up there too now. It's been over 25 years since I last set foot in Leeds or York myself (and I never want to go back), but they didn't seem to be that backward. Admittedly, I couldn't understand a lot of what came out of their mouths, but that's another story.

Anyway, "Marchlands" is yet another ghost drama based just outside Leeds in some village that doesn't really exist. It's full of people saying "uzzz" a lot, using "were" instead of "was", leaving out the word "the" from their sentences ("I'll put kettle on."), and mispronouncing the name of the house as "Marchlunds". It does have that pretty girl (Jodie Whittaker) from "Attack the Block" (2011) in it though.

Years ago, the big joke in England used to be that Australia only had half a dozen actors because the same faces were in everything. What goes around comes around because the same thing has been happening with British television lately too. In "Marchlands", not only are we treated to Alex Kingston from "Doctor Who" but also Nicholas Sidi playing a priest before he did the same again for "The Secret of Crickley Hall".

Other familiar faces include Denis Lawson (from "Star Wars"), Tessa Peake-Jones (from "Only Fools and Horses") and Shelley Conn (from "Mistresses"). I'm not going to go through the entire cast, but rest assured that they've all been in lots of British TV shows in bit parts or lead roles even though I've never watched half of them. Sooner or later every British actor ends up in one of the two dozen or more soap operas, comedies, crime serials or "Doctor Who" so it's getting as boring to mention them as it is to keep on seeing them.

"Marchlands" is uber boring as a ghost story too. There aren't any scares and the "mystery" which adds the "stickiness" factor is predictable from the first episode. The only reason I stuck with it was to prove myself right at the end although lusting over Jodie Whittaker eased the pain considerably.

I did think that the three time periods were dressed really well. The '60s and '80s look right and, of course, the house in the 2000s is all minimalist and painted rather than wallpapered because that's the thing nowadays. "Changing Rooms" has a lot to answer for.

The dialogue isn't so hot throughout, but what do you expect from an American writer? David Schulner did his best, but you have to have been there to know what those periods were like and be British to add the right colloquialisms. I don't know who was hired as a researcher, but they really should have chosen someone who wasn't just out of college to do it. You can't find out everything just by surfing the net, you know.

Overall, I didn't completely hate "Marchlands" even though it's dragged out for two episodes more than it needs to tell the story. With a few trims, it would have made a nice little film rather than a miniseries. I just felt that it was all a bit bland and too much of a soap opera rather than a horror series.

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