Last fall's most celebrated ghost story on television was Netflix's The Haunting of Hill House, an adaptation of the legendary Shirley Jackson story from emergent horror auteur Mike Flanagan, who in the past five years has built up quite the spooky filmography, from theatrical features Oculus and Doctor Sleep, to Netflix features Hush and Gerald's Game. Given the success of Hill House, a second season seemed inevitable. but instead of extending his original tale, Flanagan is returning with The Haunting of Bly Manor, a new tale with some familiar faces and a familiar blend of creeping dread, ghostly figures in the background, and an emotional core that sets it apart from other horror offerings.
With Bly Manor dropping on Netflix Friday, we're here to answer some of your questions about the new season:
No. Series creator Mike Flanagan and his team told a complete story in the saga of the Crain family and their long, sad, scary relationship with Hill House. For the new season, they're tackling a new story with new characters. This time, similar to how Flanagan adapted Shirley Jackson's classic novel for The Haunting of Hill House, he's adapting the works of Henry James, most specifically his spooky novel The Turn of the Screw.
Several! Victoria Pedretti, who played the youngest Crain child, Nelle, as an adult stars in the central role of Dani Clayton, an American who takes a job as an au pair to two orphaned children at an English country manor in Bly.
Oliver Jackson-Cohen played Nelle's twin brother Luke on Haunting of Hill House; in Bly Manor plays the role of Peter Quint, a villainous figure whose departure from Bly casts a long shadow.
Also returning is Henry Thomas, who played Crain family patriarch Hugh in flashback scenes. He'll be playing the role of Henry Wingrave, uncle to orphaned children Flora and Miles, who hires Dani to be their governess.
Finally, there's Katie Siegel, Flanagan's wife and star of his film Hush. She played the psychically sensitive Theo Crain in Hill House; her role in The Haunting of Bly Manor has not been disclosed.
British actress T'Nia Miller plays Hannah Grose, the longtime Bly Manor housekeeper who runs the home and looks out for all who inhabit it. Miller is probably most recognizable from her role on last summer's dread-inducing speculative-future drama Years and Years.
Newcomer Amelia Eve plays Bly groundskeeper Jamie, while Rahul Kohli plays Owen, the cook. Kohli is best known for his role as Dr. Ravi Chakrabarti on iZombie, as well as voicing Dr. Jonathan Crane a.k.a. Scarecrow on the animated Harley Quinn series.
Tahirah Sharif (Waterloo Road) plays the children's former governess, Rebecca Jessel, while the children themselves are played by Amelie Bea Smith and Benjamin Evan Ainsworth.
Based primarily on The Turn of the Screw, though set in the 1980s English countryside — an update that's demonstrated primarily by the waist on Miss Clayton's jeans — the story centers on an English family manor which is the home of young Flora and Miles, school-aged children whose parents have recently died and who then subsequently lost their governess as well. The children's uncle, Henry, hires Dani Clayton to be their live-in au pair, and Dani — who is leaving behind some unknown trauma of her own — packs up to move to Bly.
Once there, Dani is introduced to the rest of the Bly Manor staff, and to the children, who are sweet (Flora, especially) but peculiar (Miles, especially). As the title is "The Haunting of Bly Manor," it will come as no surprise that Dani soon begins to encounter apparitions, faces of people who may or may not be there, and other figures who haunt the manor. Everything from a child's dollhouse, to a set of muddy footprints, to a reflection in the mirror seem to point to something dark and spooky permeating the grounds and placing herself, the staff, and the children in danger.
Henry James was an American author of the late 1800s, though many of his stories were set in England. His 1898 novella The Turn of the Screw is regarded as one of the great classic ghost stories. In it, a young governess is hired to take care of two orphaned children and begins to see the ghosts of the previous governess and caretaker moving about the house.
The Turn of the Screw has been adapted several times for both film and television. The most notable of these adaptations was the 1961 film The Innocents, starring Deborah Kerr. Last year's horror film The Turning, starring Mackenzie Davis and Finn Wolfhard, was the most recent adaptation. Other films that have not strictly adapted the story, like the Nicole Kidman film The Others, have borrowed significant elements.
In his letter to the press introducing the show, Flanagan discusses wanting to capture the spirit of "Gothic romance" that James brought to his stories. He also says that while the plot of The Turn of the Screw is the jumping-off point for the season, he set out to expand and play with the story. "As with Hill House," Flanigan writes, "we wanted to make something at once old and new; reimagined and reverent."
Flanagan has also turned to some of Henry James' other stories for inspiration in how to flesh out different aspects of the story. Two short stories he's specifically cited are "The Jolly Stranger" and "The Romance of Certain Old Clothes," though Flanagan says he combed through all of James' horror fiction looking for reference points and inspiration.
Good news: yes! Especially if you were a fan of the way The Haunting of Hill House was able to blend its ghost-story spookiness with a fierce dedication to telling the emotionally resonant story of a loving family torn apart by a malevolent entity. While Bly Manor isn't as structurally ambitious as Hill House, with its interlocking timelines snapping into place at regular intervals (though there is one episode in Bly Manor that pulls this trick off with real panache and deep sadness), it does succeed at creating a family at the center of its tale, with heartfelt bonds that create real stakes when the characters are threatened. That's a real accomplishment when you consider that Hill House was about family bound by blood, while Bly Manor pulls together a more chosen family dynamic among the residents of Bly.
Pedretti does well by her character, a woman who's guileless one minute and deeply haunted the next; and Jackson-Cohen far surpasses his work on Hill House, playing a charismatic yet threatening presence. Best in show honors go to T'Nia Miller, though, whose Mrs. Grose is the perfect Mike Flanagan character, whose arc has as much to do with figuring out something she's already known as it does with reckoning with what's tormenting her. Her ability to switch back and forth between a comforting mainstay at Bly and someone about to crumble at any moment is a wonder.
While The Haunting of Hill House was a ten-episode season, The Haunting of Bly Manor comes in at nine.
The Haunting of Bly Manor drops on Netflix October 9th.
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Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, The Herald Sun, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.