Monday, 24 November 2014

'Now you can never take it back!' - Remember Me (BBC 1)

Well, here it is - the BBC's ghost story for Christmas, all three hours of it. And, like all things Yuletide, it's under way in November. A three-part modern ghost story set in Yorkshire, Remember Me certainly has the potential to be a classic, if the first episode is any indication. Written by Gwyneth Hughes and directed by Ashley Pearce, the first hour was almost a scene-by-scene lesson in how to put the ambiguity at the heart of a ghost story on screen. Indeed, this is one of the best examples of Gothic drama I've seen in a while, and there's not a castle or frilly white nightie in sight. Though of course, both can be found in Yorkshire...

Spoiler alert, and all that!




Michael Palin demonstrated (as he did years ago in GBH) that he's a very good straight actor. As Tom Parfitt, an 'eighty-something' man living alone and with no living relatives, Palin is playing slightly older. The opening sequence, inter-cutting Tom's staging of a fake fall so he can be taken to a care home with images that recall M.R. James and Japanese/Korean horror, were surprising simply because they worked perfectly. It dispelled my initial fear that this would be a costly misfire, taking a pretentious approach to ghosts, horror etc (something not unheard of in British broadcasting). Instead I got just what I wanted - a well-crafted drama with a supernatural element.

This being part one of three, we are introduced to the major characters, and the supporting cast is impressive to say the least. Mark Addy's put-upon detective sergeant saying Skyping his daughter and grandchild in Australia before blowing his promotion interview counterpointed Tom's radical life change, and raised not dissimilar questions about motive. Meanwhile, we are introduced to care worker Hannah - brilliantly played by Jodie Comer, surely destined for greatness - who has to hold her family together after her father's death.

Hannah's life is on hold, haunted by a bereavement that has hit her mother (played by Julia Sawalha, a pleasant surprise) very hard. Far from seeming like irrelevant trimmings, these scenes (like those of Mark Addy's decent copper Skyping his only 'close' family in Australia) underline the fact that good ghost stories tend to be rooted in history, and history is often painfully biographical. The sheer abundance of detail in the first episode is so well-handled that it seems quite sedate as to pace. So much is suggested and shown, and we are mercifully spared clunky exposition. Instead much is revealed by chance - a torn photograph, a seashell, and the presence of water where it shouldn't be.

It's also rather beautiful, I'm glad to say. This is the England of the Brontes, after all, and the Romantic sublime is right there, promising strangeness. Tourism for Yorkshire (or whatever the tourist board is called these days) should really have provided out some of the budget. And folklore is in there too, with the much-loved 'Scarborough Fair' featuring in one of many subtle touches of oddness. (No, it's not the Paul Simon tune - possible rights issue?)

I have no idea what's going on, and this is good. I will keep turning over the possibilities in my mind until next Sunday, when I will no doubt be baffled by some more interesting images, and pleased by excellent performances. Unless the whole edifice collapses in the final instalment, Remember Me is a great ghost story. And it's happening now.

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