The Little Stranger

 

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The past haunts an English house in a drama set mainly in 1948.

 
Little Stranger, The

Domhnall Gleeson with Charlotte Rampling

 

Those readily susceptible to tales that raise the possibility of supernatural forces being at play may well be much more appreciative than I was when watching this new work from the Irish filmmaker Lenny Abrahamson. With films such as What Richard Did (2012) and Room (2015) to his credit, one expects quality work from Abrahamson and, while a ghost story and/or a psychological thriller is not the kind of material one looks for from him, it is on record that it has been a long standing ambition of his to make a film version of The Little Stranger which in its original form was a novel by Sarah Waters published in 2009.

 

As the film’s 12A certificate indicates, this is not a fully-fledged horror movie but one that plays with the situation of a family in a once stately home which may or may not be haunted. Any work that declares its hand so late is difficult to bring off and for much of its length The Little Stranger is closer to the world of The Go-Between, L.P. Hartley’s novel of class distinction filmed by Joseph Losey in 1971, than to, say, the Henry James classic The Turn of the Screw realised on screen in that immensely atmospheric and sinister work The Innocents (1961).

 

Here we have a story set in 1948 in Warwickshire told by a local doctor, Faraday (Domhnall Gleeson). Despite being working class himself he had as a boy back in 1919 seen the inside of the family house of the Ayres, Hundreds Hall, and had become fascinated by it. By 1948 the property is in decline with part of its land being sold off to raise money and Faraday, a bachelor, is inside it again, but this time attending on the war-scarred son of the family, Roderick (Will Poulter) although he had initially been summoned there because the one surviving maid, Betty (Liv Hill), had called for a doctor. Thus Faraday meets Roderick’s sister, Caroline (Ruth Wilson), called home to look after her brother, and encounters too their mother (Charlotte Rampling), a woman haunted by memories of a first child who had died suddenly.

 

The suggestion that there is a malevolent presence in the house is made early on, yet for much of the time the emphasis is on the reserved doctor whose eventual interest in Caroline may represent a long-delayed passion or may just be a surfacing of his hidden desire to become part of an upper-class family. But, as a personal tale set in the past, the setting convinces more than the dialogue - or, perhaps, it’s a case of the delivery of it seeming slightly artificial when compared to Harold Pinter’s perfectly realised words as spoken in his adaptation of that Hartley novel. The actors most at ease here are Will Poulter and Charlotte Rampling, but theirs are only supporting roles. In any case as a study of a repressed character, The Little Stranger suffers from the miscasting of the usually reliable Gleeson who, as in Goodbye Christopher Robin (2017), seems dull when playing introspective parts and as a chiller it lacks any sense of propulsion. For me The Little Stranger is a misfire, but others may well be better attuned to what it has to offer.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, Will Poulter, Liv Hill, Charlotte Rampling, Harry Hadden-Paton, Anna Madeley, Richard McCabe.

 

Dir Lenny Abrahamson, Pro Gail Egan, Andrea Calderwood and Ed Guiney, Screenplay Lucinda Caxon, from the novel by Sarah Waters, Ph Ole Bratt Birkeland, Pro Des Simon Elliott, Ed Nathan Nugent, Music Stephen Rennicks, Costumes Steven Noble.

 

A Little Stranger/Element Pictures/Pathé/Film4/Ingenious Media/The Irish Film Board/Potboiler/Canal+/Ciné+-Pathé.
111 mins. UK/Ireland/France. 2018. Rel: 21 September 2018. Cert. 12A.