Netflix’s The Haunting of Bly Manor
Ep1: “The Great Good Place”
Directed & Written by Mike Flanagan
* For recaps & reviews of The Haunting of Hill House, click here.
* For a recap & review of “The Pupil,” click here.
An older woman (Carla Gugino), credited as the Storyteller, references The Innocents right off the bat with “O Willow Waly.” Our storyteller attends a rehearsal dinner for a wedding in Northern California, 2017. While there, people are telling stories. She opts to tell the “ghost story” of an au pair in London during 1987.
Dani Clayton (Victoria Pedretti) responds to an ad placed by Lord Henry Wingrave (Henry Thomas) seeking a live-in au pair for his niece and nephew in Wessex. Dani was a Fourth Grade teacher in the U.S., she’s been in London six months. She tries to impress Wingrave with a terrible British accent. Their interview doesn’t seem to be going overly well. Wingrave’s not thrilled by Dani’s qualifications. He sees his niece and nephew as “challenging.” He’s looking for a stern teacher. He’s entirely unsure of Dani, wondering why a young woman would give up so much to look after someone else’s children. She’s likewise a little unsure of him, considering the ad’s been out the entire time she’s been in London. Hmm.
The two run into one another again later in a pub. Dani confronts him about the “most awkward interview” she’s ever had and offers a toast. They have drinks and she asks about “the catch.” He explains the previous governess looking after the kids died on the grounds, now superstitious minds have prevented him from finding an employee. Henry makes the point that people are very superstitious in rural areas, pointing to the differences between urban and rural concerning how superstition, folklore, and prejudice thrive in the latter.
Dani gets a trial position working for Lord Wingrave. We get the impression, from her phone call, she’s trying to escape something. And the sheets over her mirrors? Is she scared of her own reflection? No, it’s the shadowy figures staring back at her from the mirror she’s afraid of, and it’s obvious there are things haunting her past.
She checks out of the hostel, then gets a ride into the country from Owen (Rahul Kohli), a man who works for Henry in various capacities. She actually gets out part of the way so she can walk up to the house. On the way, she hears a little girl singing “O Willow Waly” and comes upon little Flora (Amelie Bea Smith), thrilled to meet her new au pair. The child urges caution of the pond. She puts a stick and twine figure nearby in the ground before pulling Dani away. They find Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) and Hannah Grose (T’Nia Miller) not far off. Dani’s introduced to them, though Hannah seems oddly preoccupied. They get on their way up to Bly Manor, a sprawling estate Henry refers to as a “great, good place.”
The mansion is massive. Flora, Miles, and Hannah take Dani around to show her the many rooms, including the kitchen where Owen’s at work, and their very own classroom. Their mother and father’s room is in a shadowy wing, a spot of the house they no longer go; bad memories, one imagines. Dani’s absolutely enthralled with the property. She’s a bit surprised when she’s alone and about to change, noticing Miles peeking at her through a crack in the door. Creepy. Nothing to be too concerned over, right? If you’ve read Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw or seen any of its adaptations, you know where this is all headed. The fun is how Flanagan and Co. are going to get there in their own way.
That night, Dani’s helping Flora with a bath. The girl notices a butterfly clip in the au pair’s hair. She finds out Miles gave it to Dani. She says her brother shouldn’t have given it to her. It belonged to Miss Jessel (Tahirah Sharif), the previous governess at Bly Manor. Also doesn’t help that Flora seems to be looking at ghosts. Could be the ghost of Miss Jessel lingering. Especially since Flora changes her mind so quickly about the clip. Before bedtime, Flora’s playing with her dolls. She gets a bit dark when Dani picks up a ghost-like doll. That, too, passes quickly. Flora then tells Dani not to leave her room at night.
Naturally Dani is curious about the mansion’s grounds. She goes exploring, then decides on a cup of tea. She looks around the shadows, feeling as if a presence is near, though nothing appears. Yet there is something, or someone, lurking. Even if the au pair doesn’t notice.
The next day, Flora’s upset with Dani for leaving her room. She tells the au pair there’s a lady “in the lake” but gets interrupted by Miles trying to scare them with a spider. Dani explains she isn’t easily scared. The boy says he wasn’t trying to scare her. Then the two of them speak of Miles having trouble at school, which leads to Dani noticing painful emotions behind the boy’s eyes regarding his uncle. Who does she see at the house when they return? Looks like Peter Quint (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). An apparition? Dani asks the others at the dinner table and they’re sure she “imagined it.” Nobody says much. Also, we again see Hannah’s not eating; not a great sign.
Dani still tries to go looking for the man she saw on the parapet earlier. She finds nobody. She comes across an eerie stick and twine figure on the ledge, a talisman like the one Flora left by the pond. She heads down to a small church house on the property where she sees Hannah inside lighting candles. Dani shows Mrs. Grose the figure, and this gets Hannah explaining how the children’s parents died. After they died, Miss Jessel got involved with a man who worked on the property, too; for those who don’t know the story already, this is definitely a Quint reference. Things spiralled into horror when she eventually walked into the lake to die. Flora’s the one who found Miss Jessel’s drowned body. Much tragedy.
Many haunting memories on the mansion’s property.
When Dani’s putting the children to bed she gets locked in the closet. She thinks they’re playing foolish games, however, Flora and Miles claim they can’t open the door. She gets angrier with them the longer it goes on, beating on the door and panicking for breath. Worse still, she notices a mirror, frightened by the glowing-eyed, shadowy figure standing right behind her. She beats on the door harder, but the kids are nowhere to be found, and she’s stuck inside, like being trapped in her own head. A while later the children let her out, saying it was an accident. Everyone goes to bed for now. Downstairs, Dani finds dirty footsteps leading out the open front door. She rushes out but sees nobody, looking back up at the windows where Miles and Flora watch her intently.
“Stop being weird, Miles.”
A great opener for The Haunting of Bly Manor. It’s already compelling to watch the adaptation of James’s work, similar to the way Shirley Jackson’s novel was adapted in The Haunting of Hill House. Only one episode in and I’m already intrigued by the Gothic of the series. Even those who aren’t familiar with James or The Turn of the Screw will find this creepy.