BETWEEN 1954 and 1976, Lucy M Boston set six spooky novels for children in the fictional country house that she called Green Knowe. The BBC serialised the first in 1986. In 2009, Julian Fellowes adapted the second into this feature filmed at Athelstane in Dorset.
In the late 18th century, Maria (Carice van Houten) the Dutch wife of Royal Navy captain Oldknowe (Hugh Bonneville) bears Susan (Eliza Hope Bennett) blind from birth and Sefton (Douglas Booth) who in adolescence has become despicable.
In 1945, 13-year-old Tolley Oldknowe (Alex Etle) arrives to stay with his grandmother (Maggie Smith) who occupies the house with Tweedle her cook (Pauline Collins) and gardener/handyman Boggis (Timothy Spall) whose ancestor was doing the same job in 1811. Tolley is certain that his soldier father will return from war. Grandmother is less sanguine of that.
Grandmother has financial worries. In 1811, while socially-ambitious Maria was giving a dinner, one wing of the building burned down. And the family diamonds, plate and other valuables went missing.
On this foundation, Julian Fellowes has built a ghost story with more going for it than many run-of-the-mill frighteners. The relationship between Grandmother and Tolley takes time to coalesce. Grandmother, Tweedle and Boggis don’t download family history that Tolley’s Midlands mother hasn’t told him until after Tolley meets the spectres of Susan and the African boy (Kwayedza Kureya) whom the captain brought to be her companion.
People familiar with Ms Boston’s books may object to Fellowes’ variations, which I’m told are extensive. But the result is almost credible, a charming mix of ghost story and time travel, entertaining, sometimes tense, warmly affectionate and acted with some panache.
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