What has made riding out a global pandemic tolerable these last few months are the various streaming services with thousands of movies and TV shows available to entertain us. If you pay for more than one service, like I do, it has become a growing dilemma to decide what to watch on any given day or week. I’m not usually an indecisive person, but even I have succumbed to endless scrolling or browsing syndrome when I’m in the mood to watch something. After finishing an older TV series on Amazon Prime not too long ago (Downton Abbey), I was in the market for a newer TV series to binge watch. With a passionate recommendation from my sister it eventually led me to dedicating the next few weeks to Netflix’s The Haunting of Bly Manor.
The Haunting of Bly Manor is the second followup to Netflix’s hugely popular and critically acclaimed The Haunting of Hill House by show creator Mike Flanagan. Bly Manor is an adaptation of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw that takes place in the 80s and follows Dani Clayton (Victoria Pedretti), an American who moves to the UK and gets hired by Henry Wingrave (Henry Thomas) to look after his orphaned niece and nephew Flora (Amelie Bea Smith) and Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) Wingrave at Bly Manor. Upon Dani’s arrival she meets the rest of the manor’s household, which consists of Owen (Rahul Kohli) the cook, Hannah (T’Nia Miller) the housekeeper, and Jamie (Amelia Eve) the gardener. While Dani’s new life at Bly Manor seems exciting and rosy on the surface, the house and some of its residents are hiding deep, dark secrets.
I tend to stay away from most shows or movies with the horror label slapped on it, but because my sister finished the entire nine episode season, she not only insisted I watch it but said this one was not as scary or intense as its predecessor Hill House. My sister enjoys horror and has seen Hill House. She tried to convince me to watch Hill House and I adamantly refused. I remember hearing the buzz around Hill House when it came out back in 2018. Reading a few people’s reactions and seeing some of the images from Hill House, it was an immediate nope from me. I personally would like to be able to sleep at night, thanks. But the gothic romance atmosphere and my sister’s descriptions of how emotionally moving the whole season was, well, it was enough of a push for me to give Bly Manor a go. I’m glad I did.
Without giving anything away Bly Manor weaves an entrancing tale of love, loss, revenge, and regret. And of course, plenty of creepy ghosts to keep a viewer feeling unsettled as you watch an episode. It’s called The Haunting of Bly Manor for a reason. I never read The Turn of the Screw so I came into Bly Manor blindly. I read that the show does a faithful adaptation before it splits off from the book about halfway into the show. I was expecting to get a bit spooked from the show, which I was, but then I found myself getting emotionally invested in each and every single character’s story and their relationship.
There are unexpected twists and surprising revelations about the characters that are so well done that you might be prompted to go back for a second viewing of Bly Manor after finishing the first. Certain scenes from prior episodes now take on different shades of meaning once you understand what was going on with that person at the time it happened. Once I reached the last episode I was bawling my eyes out from how heartbreaking and bittersweet the ending was for a number of characters. Especially dear Hannah. I will not get over how her story arc went, and I’m forever on the Hannah and Owen ship.
For horror fans you might be disappointed, as some were, by how not scary Bly Manor was. For people like me this show suited me just fine because at least I was able to watch this one without worrying if I’ll be able to sleep at night.
The Haunting of Bly Manor is another instance of coming into a show expecting one thing and coming away with something else entirely. I didn’t expect the numerous love stories showcased on the show and what each of them represented—toxic, unrequited, and unconditional love. The show is particularly fascinating in how it handles each of them, and a good example on how to write good characters well. There was not one character I didn’t want to spend time with, even the less savory ones like Henry Wingrave or Peter Quint (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). It was almost like each person was a puzzle, with the exception of Owen, you were trying to figure out. What was their story? What was their intention? I always find stories that are very character driven to be the best ones to watch or read because of how much you uncover and intimately understand about them by the end of it. Those stories are the ones where the characters feel less fictional and are most real to me.
If you’re into gothic romances and ghost stories, without all the jump scares, then I highly recommend watching The Haunting of Bly Manor. Just make sure to have a box of tissues handy when you reach the last episode of the show.
Reviewer Rating: 9/10