The creep and slither of the uncanny

Showing on Channel 4 – Saturday 13th February 2021 – 21:00: The Little Stranger 2018 gothic drama film directed by Lenny Abrahamson and written by Lucinda Coxon, based on the novel of same name by Sarah Waters.


“Having watched the film, Sarah Waters commented:

“The moment THE LITTLE STRANGER finished, I wanted to watch it again. The product of a perfect combination of things – genius direction, a great script, masterly acting, lush cinematography – it’s a complex, poignant, terrifically unsettling film. I couldn’t wish for a better adaptation of the novel.”

The film stars Domhnall Gleeson (Brooklyn) as Dr Faraday; Golden Globe winner Ruth Wilson (The Affair) as Caroline Ayres; BAFTA winner Will Poulter (The Revenant) as Roderick Ayres; and Oscar nominee Charlotte Rampling (45 Years) as Mrs Ayres.

THE LITTLE STRANGER is a Pathé, Film4, Irish Film Board and Ingenious presentation of a Potboiler Production in association with Element Films. The film was developed by Film4 with Potboiler and Element Films.”

Christopher Campbell reviewed the film for on August 31, 2018:

“…Whatever mystery lies in the story is in the wonder of what’s missing, what’s not being shown, rather than what’s causing sudden fires to combust and odd markings to appear on the walls and the servants’ call bell system to erupt in rings from vacant rooms. The question of what’s going on, which the audience may have regarding the plot, isn’t so much a curiosity of some revelation to come so much as bafflement in response to unclear direction. Thanks to the cinematography by Ole Bratt Birkeland (The Crown), the film is handsomely foggy, always pleasant to look at, but Abraham-son, who received an Oscar nomination for Best Director for his previous feature, Room, and his usual editor, Nathan Nugent, don’t connect those shots into a cohesive whole.

Admittedly, because I’d read the book, I wondered if I was only sensing gaps in the storytelling because there’s more detail in the novel. As there always is. But there is undoubtedly a deficiency in the establishment of the characters in the adaptation. Only Faraday borders on being a well-formed entity, and even then the character has the benefit of shorthand in the casting. Gleeson is a versatile actor well-associated with roles both charming and petulant, and the more we can project onto him of that known range matters to his performance of an inscrutable man who is agreeable or despicable in any given scene, and interchangeably either in most…”

Hilary Mantel reviewed the book for The Guardian on 23 May 2009:

“…Sarah Waters’s masterly novel is a perverse hymn to decay, to the corrosive power of class resentment as well as the damage wrought by war. Hundreds Hall is crawling with blights and moulds, crumbling from subsidence and water damage. Beetles knock behind panelling. Weeds force themselves through stone. The window panes are dim and warped; they reflect nothing truly. Its corridors are dark, light spilling unexpectedly from open doors and the great dome above. The psyches of the inhabitants are riddled with ambivalence, holed by self-doubt, worn away by genteel, stifled frustration. They speak the soothing language of upper-class good manners, but all are unable to face their damaged selves, or contemplate their capacity for doing damage in their turn.

Faraday’s patient, he finds, is not the lady of the house, nor is it her son or daughter. It is Betty, a 14-year-old skivvy, the only servant now employed in a house that once provided work for dozens. She says she has abdominal pain; Faraday suspects she is malingering, but permits her a day in bed, and points out to her employers that she is homesick and nervous, isolated in her basement bedroom. Betty’s fear that something is deeply wrong in the house is laughed off, as the product of country ignorance. In a classic ghost narrative, it is often the children and the dogs who are first to feel the cold draught, the creep and slither of the uncanny. It is a mark of the author’s perfect understanding of her period that Dr Faraday and her employers regard Betty as being hardly on the human level. After each messy disaster, each shock, each stroke of fate, Betty is summoned with a blackly comic inevitability, to mop up the blood and the broken glass, to carry buckets of water, to brew tea and calm the nerves of her social superiors. Inarticulate, gauche, she is not considered to have the sensibility to feel the higher types of terror. No one offers Betty an explanation as gruesome events escalate. She is being paid a wage, after all, to stand by without complaining as the laws of nature are broken…”

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