Review–UK series Marchlands merges three worlds into a satisfying ghost story

Marchlands cast - can you find Alice

With a television series featuring Doctor Who and Arrow’s Alex Kingston, Life on Mars’s Dean Andrews, Luke Skywalker’s pal Wedge Antilles, and the lead actress from Attack the Block, you just can’t go wrong.  And it’s really hard to beat an old British cottage near the woods as the setting when you’re creating a ghost story.  Add to it one of’s most discussed subjects: a movie about a creepy little girl, and you’re in for a good show.  That could not be more true than with the UK mini-series Marchlands.  UK production company ITV and 20th Century Fox created an expertly constructed five-part, supernatural drama mini-series that traverses three families living in different eras in the same British house.

Marchlands title card

Marchlands first aired in the UK in 2010, but it hasn’t been released in the States yet. In fact the only way to view it is to buy it from a British online retailer along with a DVD player that will play DVDs from Europe.   Along with watching all the other series from the UK long before they cross the lake to America, going the extra mile to get access to these series is well worth the effort.

Kingston and Andrews in Marchlands

Following three eerily interconnected families that live in a house called Marchlands, director James Kent uses a nifty storytelling device of moving from one time period to the next by passing off a scene in action from one period to the next simply by honing in on a common hallway or common activity and letting the actors in the next time period continue on with no break in movement.  The events in the story all occur in three eras.  In 1968 we follow Attack of the Block star Jodie Whittaker as Ruth Bowen, a mother who cannot move on after her daughter Alice died by drowning in a river, her husband Paul (Jamie Thomas King, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) and his parents, Robert and Evelyn Bowen, played by Denis Lawson (Star Wars, Bleak House, Horatio Hornblower) and Tessa Peake-Hodge (Pride and Prejudice).  In 1987 we meet Helen and Eddie Maynard, played by genre favorites Alex Kingston (Doctor Who’s River Song and Arrow’s Dinah Lance) and hubby Dean Andrews (Life on Mars) as they try to understand what is wrong with their daughter, who claims a ghost of a little girl lives with them.  In 2010, Marchlands is remodeled and a former resident of the town, Mark Ashburn (played by Eliot Cowan, The Golden Compass) and his pregnant wife Nisha (Shelley Conn, Terra Nova) stumble upon a mystery that connects their newborn daughter, Alice, with Alice Bowen, as well as other secrets of the town that can no longer be kept quiet.

2010 Marchlands era

One of the series’ best features is allowing characters from one time period to get older and return to the story in a later time period.  The mood is not quite Gothic mystery but it comes close.  Despite its modern setting it would fit nicely alongside other well-made ghost stories, especially films with Gothic manor house settings, such as The Secret of Crickley Hall, The Others, Woman in Black, and Watcher in the WoodsAnd Marchlands is a ghost story, not a cheap slasher film.  Dean Andrews has a very good role as a father who supports his daughter’s eccentricities.  Jodie Whittaker’s despair and faith are beautifully handled, and Denis Lawson’s reserved quiet calls him out early on as someone to keep an eye on.

Marchlands DVD

The supporting characters in the 2010 era really shine.  Anne Reid (Doctor Who, Doc Martin, Bleak House) plays elder Ruth Bowen as a retired midwife revisiting the home of her past.  Elizabeth Rider (Law and Order: UK, Waking the Dead, The Sarah Jane Adventures) plays Olive Runcie, a deaf local woman whose interconnected past with Ruth Bowen and Mark Ashburn helps to reveal the secret of Marchlands.

Here is a preview of the series Marchlands:

No doubt BBC America or Public Television soon will secure the series for viewing in the U.S.  When that happens, be sure not to miss this one.  Right now a follow-on series titled Lightfields is in its first airing in the UK, starring The Golden Compass star Dakota Blue Richards and genre character actor Michael Byrne (Force 10 from Navarone, Horatio Hornblower, Sum of All Fears, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Braveheart, Harry Potter, A Bridge Too Far), and Lucy Cohu (Torchwood, Gosford Park).  We can’t wait for its DVD release.

C.J. Bunce

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