Thomas Burchfield
6 min readOct 23, 2020

In which we entertain brief thoughts on The Haunting of Bly Manor, the British mini-thriller Cobra, and Christina Lane’s biography of Hitchcock collaborator Joan Harrison. Only one of the three really succeeds.

I grew increasingly irritated with The Haunting of Bly Manor before hitting the off-button at episode four, following the terrible episode three. The series has some eerie brushes, but in revealing and explaining every character and their every motivation it drains away and hollows out the magic found in the durable originals: Henry James’ novella The Turn of the Screw and Jack Clayton’s 1961 black-and-white classic The Innocents, which grows creepier with every viewing. (Take it from me: watch that one instead.)

Bly Manor is especially wrongheaded in its portrayals of Peter Quint and Miss Jessel. In the originals, the pair shadows the edges, as ghosts would, a pair of terrifying and disturbing enigmas. In the 1961 film, (co-written by Truman Capote) the stain of a genuine depravity hangs over Quint and Jessel like a dirty halo that goes beyond simple abuse. Mike Flanagan’s production drags the pair into full daylight, flashbacks and all; and so they’re turned to bleach. Quint seems just another gaslighting bully. The show keeps up with the current moment but leaves the soul and mystery behind. It’s the ghost story as family therapy.

Victoria Pedretti as Miss Clayton tries hard but can’t carry Deborah Kerr’s chair (or Julie Christie’s chair in The Hauntingfor that matter). Again, her past is explained ad nauseum — nothing suggested, everything spelled out in large block letters. (Flanagan seem in thrall to other over-explainers such as Steven Spielberg, Oliver Stone, and Spike Lee. Can’t we think or feel for ourselves? Maybe not.) The show spends more time explaining than scaring. And there’d not a single moment as compelling as the one in The Innocents where Miss Clayton tries desperately to break through Flora’s denial while Miss Jessel’s ghost stares from a swampy distance, still like death, her eyes empty black holes. Just typing that line raises a chill I cannot shake.
Thomas Burchfield

Essayist, film critic, humorist, and novelist. The author of 1920s noir gangster novel , BUTCHERTOWN, available at Amazon and other booksellers.