The Haunting of Bly Manor tells a tragic ghost story of love but forgets to scare.
The Haunting of Bly Manor is the second season or second installment of The Haunting series created by Mike Flanagan that started off with The Haunting of Hill House. While The Haunting of Hill House was loosely based on the novel of the same name by Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Bly Manor is based on the novel The Turn of the Screw by Henry James and several of his other ghost stories.
While The Haunting of Hill House was emotionally charged, scary, with in-depth character studies and a mystery and a brilliantly put together plot The Haunting of Bly Manor is a tragic drama that is more a love story with some ghosts than a really scary story.
This season consists of 9 episodes with each a duration of 45-66 minutes. It has a continuous storyline about different people living and dead at Bly Manor.
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In 1987 Dani gets a job as a live-in teacher of 8 year-old Flora and 10 year-old Miles, the niece and nephew of Henry Wingrave. While he lives and works in London, the two orphans live at Bly Manor in the countryside with housekeeper Hannah Grose, gardener Jamie and Owen the cook. But Bly Manor is haunted and the children are wanted by the ghosts of Peter Quint and Miss Rebecca Jessel. But they are not the only ghosts who can’t let go of life and the living, turning Bly Manor into a very sinister and dangerous place and both the living and the dead have secrets.
Why you should watch it
It’s inevitable to compare The Haunting of Bly Manor both with The Haunting of Hill House and the original story and other stories of Henry James. To start with the first, it’s a totally different story, differently told and filmed and has a tragic atmosphere that connects a couple of love stories that take place inside Bly Manor that all end badly. Like it’s said in the ending, every ghost story is a love story, and that is mostly what the hauntings are in this story. Although there are some very real ghosts, it’s more about who they were as people who ended up as ghosts to haunt the living.
The story starts out very slowly. It follows the novel of The Turn of the Screw more precise than The Haunting of Hill House did with its original story, but that also means that unlike Hill House, Bly Manor doesn’t make this story its own. It therefore feels incoherent at times, especially while forcing other ghost stories written by Henry James into the narrative that are completely taken out of context and in doing so get a totally different meaning. While Hill House managed to put everything together in such a way that it fitted perfectly telling a heart-wrenching tale of grief and love, Bly Manor succeeds much less.
The series looks beautiful, the setting, the atmosphere of the house, but neither the characters nor the storytelling are as compelling and heartbreaking as Hill House and therefore don’t reel you in. Their stories feel not connected like the stories of each family member of the Crains who all share the same burden and cope with it differently creating a complex and psychological insight into their lives and beings. The characters of Bly Manor feel rather separate from each other and their stories are not that elaborated, not fleshing them out into compelling persons. They stay, just like the plot itself too much on the surface.
Bly Manor deals with the themes of love, life and death, just like Henry James’ stories do, that also include the fear of marriage, a life unfulfilled and homosexuality. Although these themes are apparent in Bly Manor, they don’t go as deep as James’ stories do, not reaching a level of existential dread, fear of life or death, or creating an atmosphere of doom.
While the overall story is a retelling of The Turn of the Screw, it also includes some of his other stories. When Dani arrives at Bly, it is said that this is The Great Good Place. Which was a place in a story that meant peace and quiet. Henry also mentions he has seen a ghost of a soldier in the house, meaning the soldier’s ghost of the story Owen Wingrave. Hannah Grose has her own little Altar of the Dead where she burns candles for the dead, but it’s only a mild nod. Dani sees a ghost, the ghost of Edmund her fiancé who she has wronged, by leading him on, not telling him she’s actually gay, just like in the story Sir Edmund Orme, but who had a totally different function. This storyline though is suddenly forgotten and doesn’t follow through.
The Jolly Corner is used in a very different way, by making Henry imagining he sees his evil doppelgänger who acts as his guilt. Unlike in the story where the doppelgänger was the embodiment of a path not taken.
Another story that gets much attention is The Romance of a Certain Old Clothes. In fact this episode explains what is actually going on at Bly and why, in a very clear way. There’s no doubt about what is going on. This episode is shot in black and white with a voice over that, nicely said, is an American trying to produce an English accent but makes a mess of it, which actually goes for more American actors, in Bly Manor. This voice over is a big part of the overall story and explains everything to us, which is a trope that is either liked or not. This episode feels rather forced, both in storytelling and explaining and gives a totally different spin on the original story, taking it out of context.
Finally the ghost stories of Henry James are all gothic romance stories, ghost stories that take place in the real world and where the supernatural is just very subtle, maybe not real even. It always stays unclear whether the hauntings and ghosts are the figments of the imagination of the characters, or in fact real. That is up to the reader, while now in Bly the ghosts are very real.
The Haunting of Bly Manor is a tragic love story with ghosts that isn’t compelling enough, lacks emotional depth and psychological depth, a story that doesn’t intertwine every character and plot line and isn’t scary at all. Also the hidden ghosts are even more hidden than in Hill House.
My favorite part
I loved the little story of Hannah best, because it finally brought something more to the story, something that was interesting and actually sad and tragic. The unfulfilled love story between Owen and Hannah was the most upsetting.
Scare factor: ★★☆☆☆
Originality factor: ★★★☆☆
Entertainment factor: ★★★☆☆
Read more about The Haunting of:
Read the summaries and analysis of Henry James’ Ghost Stories:
- Henry James: The Turn of the Screw [Summary & Analysis]
- Henry James: The Altar of the Dead [Summary & Analysis]
- Henry James: The Beast in the Jungle [Summary & Analysis]
- Henry James: De Grey A Romance [Summary & Analysis]
- Henry James: The Ghostly Rental [Summary & Analysis]
- Henry James: The Great Good Place [Summary & Analysis]
- Henry James: The Jolly Corner [Summary & Analysis]
- Henry James: The Last of the Valerri [Summary & Analysis]
- Henry James: Owen Wingrave [Summary & Analysis]
- Henry James: The Real Right Thing [Summary & Analysis]
- Henry James: The Romance of a Certain Old Clothes [Summary & Analysis]
- Henry James: Sir Edmund Orme [Summary & Analysis]
- Henry James: The Third Person [Summary & Analysis]
- Henry James: The Way It Came [Summary & Analysis]
- The Turn of the Screw (Henry James) review
Cast and crew
The Haunting of Bly Manor is created by Mike Flanagan. It stars Victoria Pedretti (Dani Clayton), Benjamin Evan Ainsworth (Miles), Amelie Bea Smith (Flora), Henry Thomas (Henry Wingrave), Amelia Eve (Jamie), Rahul Thomas (Owen), T’Nia Miller (Hannah Grose), Tahirah Sharif (Rebecca Jessel), Oliver Jackson-Cohen (Peter Quint) and Carla Gugino (Narrator).
Music: The Newton Brothers. Cinematography: Maxime Alexandre, James Kniest. Production companies: Amblin Television, Intrepid Pictures, Paramount Television Studios. Distributed by: Netflix.