So far the Gothic and ghostly Marchlands and Lightfields series have only aired in the UK, available to U.S. audiences only if you buy a European boxed set for an international DVD player from a source such as eBay or Amazon.co.uk. We did just that and reviewed the superb first series in our review of Marchlands here earlier this year. This past February the next installment of the multi-generational ghost story set in a common British manor, Lightfields, introduced a new cast of characters, new time periods and a new home as setting. The new five-installment series is certain to please fans of the first series, adding a more intricately woven plot and plenty of surprises. No word yet when these series will make it to the States, but when they do you’ll know to program the DVR accordingly.
As with Marchlands, Lightfields follows three sets of families in a manor house, all interconnected by a common event in the past. For Lightfields it is 1944, 1975, and 2012. In 1944 we meet the Felwoods, a typical British rural family during wartime. A girl named Eve (The Golden Compass’s Dakota Blue Richards) has come up to escape from the London blitz, befriending the seventeen-year-old Felwood daughter Lucy (Antonia Clarke). One year Lucy’s senior, Lucy flaunts her maturity prompting Lucy to be drawn to an American serviceman (Neil Jackson, Quantum of Solace, White Collar, How I Met Your Mother, Stargate SG-1) looking only for a fling while on R&R. Lucy is at the core of the ghost story, dying in a barn fire at the beginning of the series. Why she was in the barn, who else saw what happened, and who caused the fire are the questions ultimately revealed in the well-plotted mystery of Lightfields.
We revisit Lightfields again, woven in and out of each episode, in 1975 with Vivien Mullen, played by Lucy Cohu (Torchwood, Gosford Park, Rebecca (1997)), and her daughter Clare, played by Karla Crome. Not related to the Felwoods, Vivien finds herself at Lightfields with no memory of the events back in 1944, except for the fact she was a neighbor living there at the time. As she desperately tries to write a novel, she is haunted by a ghost in the house and her history of mental illness and prescription drugs compounds her inability to distinguish between what is real and what is imagined.
The standout performance comes from 69-year-old 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), as Pip, who is the little brother of Lucy all grown up in 2012 and just returning to Lightfields for the first time since 1944 to live with his son’s family. Byrne’s performance in the 2012 time period is incredibly nuanced–his troubled old soul shifts from uncertainty to sadness to fear to bravery with such ease that you believe everything he says and everything he does is real. This may be his best role to date–which says a lot considering his superb list of past performances.
Also notable is Dakota Blue Richards’ performance as the believable and determined 1940s era teenager Eve. Richards is showing she is ready for a great future in major adult roles, carrying a stage presence and appeal that will hold your attention in every scene.
Moving beyond the gotchas in Marchlands, Lightfields offers up access to the family’s personal relationships that make the spooks all the more believable. Pip’s granddaughter died before 2012, unrelated to the story’s mystery, but left behind a son (a well-done performance by young actor Alexander Aze) cared for by his grandparents Barry Felwood (played by Danny Webb, Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V, Doctor Who, the Scarlet Pimpernel, Waking the Dead, Redemption, Sherlock, Being Human, Valkyrie, Frenchman’s Creek, Alien³) and Lorna Felwood (played by Sophie Thompson, Gosford Park, Emma, Doc Martin, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One). They share custody with the boy’s father Paul, played by Kris Marshall. The trials of daily life create their own obstacles and frights, creating tension between the players equal to that of the core ghost story experience.
Audiences will cheer these characters forward, seeing that if only they saw the big picture they might be able to move forward with their lives. As with Marchlands, the manor itself becomes a key player in the unfolding story. This is a ghost story but it is also the story of four generations of a British family dealing with the tragedies of their times with the backdrop of the world’s stage, and how the events, misunderstandings, and mistakes of the past can affect later generations.
Along with Marchlands, Lightfields is among the best of recent British television series and American audiences are in for a real treat once the series are picked up by Public Television or BBC America.