The year is 1586 and Young Lettice Wolfburn (Ellen Page) is sent off to be a governess to the newly orphaned Lord Granthone (Jack Harries, school of comedy) and his sister Beatrice. Lettice stumbles over the body of an unknown man on her entrance in to Granthone Hall and attempts to discover who he is but with so many new faces in the Hall thanks to the twelve’s day of Christmas and Lord Granthone’s suspicions that she is a spy for Queen Elizabeth, she begins to discover that not everyone is who they say they are.
As a debut, Damon Thomas has made the right choice by sticking to gothic horror he is known for (in the Mark Gatiss’ written The Crooked house miniseries) and brings vividly to life the Lenny John’s bestselling book. The production staff must have been thanking their lucky stars for all the snow we had last year as it provides a wonderful backdrop to the dark and shadowy Hall that Ellen Page’s beautifully realised Lettice finds herself in; providing set pieces and an amazing muffed sound effect when there is a daring chase across the moors.
Thomas thrusts the audience into the action with the camera following Lettice like one of the many shadows that habituate the Hall and we being to feel the paranoia that consumes Lord Granthone. Jack Harries turns in a wonderful if surprisingly sinister turn as the young and secretive Lord Granthone, more adult then child, he is terrifying when crossed. Definitely an actor I’ll watch out for. Ellen Page also shines in this, producing a perfect English accent (slightly Welsh but the character has recently been there) and a performance that allows the story to unfold around her and the audience to experience each new twist as she discovers it. The fear on her face during the hideout in the priest hole seems genuine as does the look of horror when she is confronted by Lord Granthone in one of the climatic scenes.
The books themes of religion (ranging from the pagan beliefs surrounding the winter solstice and the conflict between the Catholics and Protestants in Elizabethan England) are transposed quite well and the film has an extremely claustrophobic feel which does not lift until the Twelfth night celebration.
This movie, while not a traditional Christmas tale; at least explores the religiosity that surrounds the period and you may come out knowing more about Christmas then any Miracle on 34th Street remake!
By Holly Dean-Young
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