TV Review: Lightfields

“I feel like I’ve been running my whole life from this”

Lucy Cohu’s biggest TV show of recent times is probably Lightfields, conceived as a follow-up to the rather successful Marchlands of a couple of years ago, and occupying very similar ground of supernatural phenomena haunting the same property through different time periods. A remote farmhouse in Suffolk is the setting, the building named Lightfields, and as a young woman dies in mysterious circumstances in a wartorn 1944, the repercussions are felt by a mother and daughter who stay there for the summer in 1975 and also by the family who are running it as a bed and breakfast in 2012. The ghosts of the past weigh heavily on all concerned as in all three eras, the search for the truth as to what happened puts several people in danger.

I really enjoyed Marchlands so I was a little sceptical to hear that a sequel of sorts had been planned one which seemed to repeat the same format. And though it was mostly enjoyable to watch, I did find it to be not quite on the same level as its predecessor. For a start, it had far too many characters in the 1944 slot alone, I couldn’t get a bearing on who was who even when they were right in front of me, never mind when older versions of them appeared in the later time periods – I felt like I needed to write down a list of everyone as it always felt overly cluttered, with too many story strands feeding into both the 1944 and 2012 slots and leaving the overall feel of the programme as rather confused.

For my purposes, I was pleased that 1975 was the strongest section, with Cohu’s Vivien returning to the village she once stayed in as a girl in order to find some peace and quiet to write a novel and work on her own mental health, but finding that the problems lie in something so deeply suppressed that she can no longer remember. With Karla Crome as her daughter and Peter de Jersey as her delish husband  who visits all-too-briefly, there’s a much needed simplicity to her struggles, an ambiguity about what is real and what is not and some genuine spookiness which Damon Thomas’ direction pulls off without overegging the pudding.

But in 1944, I was left frequently bewildered at the multitude of additional characters bolted onto the central family of the Felwoods, with US Air Forcemen, evacuated waifs and various village boys all complicating a story of teenage passions, illicit liaisons and childish naïveté which unfolds with tragic consequences. I loved seeing Dakota Blue Richards (Lyra from the film The Golden Compass) and Sam Hazeldine’s epic moustache but Jill Halfpenny felt wasted as the mother and I never felt I had a handle on what was going on. 

And in 2012, an effective straightforward haunting across the generations is muddied by an extraneous parental custody storyline, in which Kris Marshall feels entirely out of place. But Danny Webb and Sophie Thompson (surely too young to be a gran!) are great as the grandparents befuddled by Michael Byrne’s Pip and his great-grandson Luke (Alexander Aze) who are both haunted by the same apparently vengeful spirit. 

But the majority of Simon Tyrell’s script felt somewhat laboured and the main thrust of the story lacked the essential clarity that made Marchlands much more gripping and indeed, a scarier prospect in the way that the supernatural aspects were unravelled. Programmes such as these do suffer from the need to have things that can be explained as it is the inexplicable that is always more frightening and in the rare moments where the ambiguity is allowed to be the strongest, is where Lightfields is the most affecting.

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