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The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Haunting of Bly Manor is a horror series based on Henry James' 1898 novella The Turn of the Screw and created by Mike Flanagan (The Haunting of Hill House). It follows its literary source material more closely than Hill House did, telling the story of two young children who've been scarred by death and the new nanny who comes to care for them. She soon falls under the spell of the brooding house in which they live and starts seeing ghosts. A former nanny died by suicide, and viewers hear about her death frequently, including details such as the discovery of her dead body by a young child. The death of a man whose figure appears at Bly is also discussed. A set of children have lost their parents, and their trauma and grief are mentioned frequently. There are also spooky visuals like faceless dolls and a dark figure with glowing eyes that peeks out of mirrors. It's worth noting that The Turn of the Screw ended with (spoiler alert!) the death of a child, and Bly might do likewise. The cast is diverse in terms of age and gender, though the main characters are White. Adults drink at dinners and gatherings.
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What's the story?
Created by The Haunting of Hill House's Mike Flanagan, THE HAUNTING OF BLY MANOR is based on Henry James' 1898 novella The Turn of the Screw. When Dani (Victoria Pedretti) accepts a live-in nanny job from the stern and snobbish Henry Wingrave (Henry Thomas), he warns her that Flora (Amelia Bea Smith) and Miles (Benjamin Ainsworth) are exceptional, but ... challenging. And that the latest governess, Miss Jessel, died by suicide somewhere on the grounds of the vast and commanding Bly Manor, leaving the children in the hands of live-in housekeeper Mrs. Grose (T'Nia Miller). But what Dani's not prepared for is how the house and its inhabitants begin to break down her defenses, leaving her vulnerable to the otherwordly attacks she soon begins to suffer. Or is it all in her mind? As strange figures begin to pop up unexpectedly and disappear just as quickly, Dani begins to wonder if Bly Manor is having an effect on her -- or if she's having an effect on it.
Is it any good?
Smart, spooky, and based on a literary classic that's been giving readers the willies since 1898, this (literally) haunting series is a worthy follow-up. The Haunting of Bly Manor also hews closer to its source material than Flanagan's The Haunting of Hill House did, which turns out to be a very good thing. Of course, since Henry James first serialized The Turn of the Screw in 1898, the "creepy kids" trope has been done to death; horror fans sigh these days when they see a young child in a movie because they know they'll be subjected to innumerable "it's scary because a little kid said it" lines, eerie childlike laughter, and so on. But Bly's Flora and Miles don't feel like children trying to act scary; with their stiff backs, regular-kid looks, and overly formal English-accented way of speaking, they seem like characters out of time, something from Dickens or Frances Hodgson Burnett: Children who have seen too much for their age. They're truly sinister, and though it's hard to tell if they're directing some of the evil of their home or just molding themselves to their surroundings, viewers will soon learn to wince a little when they show up with serious expressions, because it probably means something deeply creepy is about to occur.
With her wide eyes and young voice, Dani is our avatar, walking into Bly totally unprepared. But just as the unnamed governess in James' original had darkness in her past, Dani is running from something. Does it have something to do with the reason she fled to England and refuses to go home to America, and why she keeps the mirrors in her room covered? Would a woman without her past be able to see the mysterious figures that appear and disappear on Bly's grounds, and would they linger to try to make sense of what's happening? Dani thinks she's protecting Miles and Flora; the children know there's not much they can do to shield Dani even if they wanted to, and it's not clear they do. Fans of gory and sensational horror movies may find Bly's revelations to be doled out at too slow a pace, but The Haunting of Bly Manor is a spine-tingling delight to viewers who appreciate a ghost story that casts an elegant spell.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the way The Haunting of Bly Manor is creepy but not excessively gory -- especially in comparison to many modern-day horror offerings. How does it manage to be so frightening without being graphic? What methods do the filmmakers use to set the tone?
Why are movies about ghosts and haunted houses so enduringly popular? Why do some people like being scared? Do you?
Have you seen any of the other adaptations of Henry James' The Turn of the Screw, such as 1961's The Innocents or 1972's The Nightcomers? Would it surprise you to learn that there are many other TV shows, films, books, and even an opera inspired by this same source material? Why are there so many literary and dramatic works associated with this story? What universal feelings does it elicit? Has the material aged well with time?
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