Blightyvision: “Marchlands”

Starring Alex Kingston, Dean Andrews, and Shelley Conn
Written by Stephen Greenhorn and David Schulner
Directed by James Kent

Well, here’s an interesting turn-up.  We’ve been seeing a lot of remakes of British shows for America — most recently “Being Human” — but ITV’s “Marchlands” was actually based on an American show.  Or, rather, the pilot for an American show.  “The Oaks” was intended to be a high-concept series to compete with “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives” in the ratings, but it never took off, and thus the idea was shopped out to ITV for a full-length (or at least full-length for UK television) remake.

And looking at it, one can see why TV producers might be under the impression that Americans wouldn’t understand it.  The story follows three families — the Bowens, the Maynards, and the Ashburns — all of whom inhabited an isolated house in a small village at different points in time.  In the present day, Mark (Elliot Cowan, notably Mr. Darcy in “Lost in Austen”) and Nisha (Conn of “Dead Set”) move in as they await the birth of their child.  In the 1960s, Ruth Bowen (Jodie Whittaker of “Cranford”) watches her life and marriage falls apart as she copes with the mysterious death of her daughter Alice.  And in the 1980s, Helen Maynard (Kingston, a.k.a. River Song in “Doctor Who”) and her husband Eddie (Andrews, recently Ray Carling of “Life on Mars” and “Ashes to Ashes”) attempt to deal with their young daughter Amy’s psychological issues, which manifest in the form of an imaginary friend named … well … Alice.

In and of themselves, the stories are linear, though relative to each other they cross at key points in the story to inform individual elements of the others.  Not an easy feat, but one writer Stephen Greenhorn (writer of the Doctor Who episodes “The Lazarus Experiment” and “The Doctor’s Daughter”) handles stylishly.  And while the story isn’t completely opaque, it’s twisty and turny enough that even the elements you may figure out on your own still play out in a way that’s not too predictable.

While all three stories are meant to interlock — more so as veteran actress Anne Reid joins the present-day storyline as an older version of one of the early-timeline characters — the Maynards really do steal the show.  Andrews and Kingston are real stars here, playing against type to the roles we got to know them in, and Amy and her oft-neglected brother Scott are very believable.  Which isn’t to say that the other stories aren’t as interesting, but the extremities seem a bit less developed than the 80s filling in the middle.

As a paranormal chiller, it essentially does its job.  “Marchlands” has its scary moments (especially if a light bulb blows at just the “right” time like it did for me), but it isn’t genuinely frightening in and of itself.  Creepy, yes, but never particularly stomach-turning or off-putting.  By the time you get to the end and get your answers, the low-level scare factor is understandable plot-wise.  It’s definitely more plot- and character-driven than anything else — in other words, it isn’t horror by any stretch of the imagination.  Just an occasional prod to the amygdala to make you jump before going about the business at hand.

That’s hardly a complaint, though, unless you come into this genuinely wanting to have the footwear scared off you.  Because you won’t get that.  It’s psychological but not deeply so: a fun ride open to conspiracy theories, but not one that will have you yelling at the screen between episodes.

In the end, “Marchlands” is a nice creepy ghost story with what I at least considered to be a pleasant conclusion.  Conflict seen to, questions answered, story over.  I’m not going to say how or if any of the characters were happy about it, but it was tied up well.  If you don’t come in expecting to be scared silly but are just looking for a good story, you’ll enjoy yourself very much.

“Marchlands” contains creepy dead girls, self-operating faucets, and very 80s chest hair, and thus may not be suitable for those with heart conditions.