“Sometimes we don’t see everything that’s going on”
A tale of how the supernatural can linger in the same house, Marchlands was an ITV drama originally broadcast in early 2011. Written by Stephen Greenhorn and set in Yorkshire, it follows the fortunes of three families who all live in the same house. In 1968, Ruth and Paul are mourning the death of their 8 year old daughter Alice but suffering from a serious lack of communication and stifled by living with his parents. In 1987, the Maynard family struggle to deal with young Amy’s invisible best friend whose arrival coincides with all sorts of strange happenings. And in 2010, Mark and Nisha return to the village of his childhood, but secrets from the past threaten their future and that of their unborn child.
Greenhorn’s writing cleverly sets up and slowly unravels a different set of mysteries in each of the strands, whilst also introducing overlapping elements which intertwine across the years. Jodie Whittaker’s Ruth, dismissed as a hysterical grieving mother, brings a tortured distress to her determination to find out the truth behind her daughter’s drowning; Dean Andrews and Alex Kingston pair up brilliantly as the 80s couple whose children are inexplicably caught up in Alice’s web; and Shelley Conn is convincing as the modern-day new mother, stressed from the demands of parenthood, the loneliness of her new home, the mysteries that her husband, the ever delectable Elliot Cowan, won’t reveal. And then there is Anne Reid, in scintillating form as a woman vital to all of the stories.
Director James Kent differentiates the different time periods neatly without too much heavyhandedness, instead subtly using different lighting schemes of increasing brightness as the years progress. Connecting images join up scene transitions successfully, recurring motifs echo back and forth and the strong water imagery that underpins so much is powerfully used to portentous effect. As ever with me, when the scariness becomes too literal (the end of episode 2), it loses some of its genuinely chilling nature. But this is restrained to just a couple of usages and elsewhere it really does send shivers down the spine, with tinkling music boxes and possessed little girls both ticking the boxes of what would keep me awake at night.
And importantly, there’s an incredibly strong sense of story-telling that underpins the whole production. Shocks and thrills are used aplenty but only to augment the story, and as it turns out, what is scarier is the way in which humans behave in order to protect what they have and the decisions they consequently make. Marchlands emerges as a distressing story of ghosts and regrets and pain and loss, but always utterly gripping and powerfully played.