In his latest film, director Lenny Abrahamson (Frank, Room) presents a beautifully executed, dark and utterly gripping period piece which is only slightly let down a major casting oversight. Adapted by Abrahamson and screenwriter Lucinda Coxon from Sarah Waters’s best-selling gothic novel of the same name, The Little Stranger stars Domhnall Gleeson as a lowly country doctor struggling to find his standing in a post-war Britain, amidst a society obsessed with class and social standing.
In the summer of 1948, Doctor Faraday(Gleeson) finds himself back in his childhood village to bury his recently deceased elderly mother. After deciding to stay on and start a new life in the country, Faraday is offered a job as a junior doctor at the local surgery, a position which seems to perfectly suit his current situation. When he is called upon by the Ayres family to tend to a patient at Hundreds Hall, the grand stately home where his mother worked for a number of years and the place he has been obsessed with since childhood, Fraday is shocked to find the place dilapidated and its aristocratic inhabitants almost penniless and unable to restore their home to its former glory.
Though he finds nothing wrong with his intended patient, a teenage maid named Betty (Liv Hill), Faraday soon casts his eyes on the severe yet charming Caroline Ayres (Ruth Wilson), and her brother Roderick (Will Poulter), a taciturn and deeply disturbed war veteran whom the he offers to help back to health. Things take a turn for the sinister when strange and unexplained things start to take place around the house, leading the family to believe that their once happy home is haunted by an evil spirit.
Abrahamson does a fantastic job in delivering a truly majestic and stunning vision of post-war Britain, a country still slavishly hanging on to a class system which refuses to value anyone it deems a stranger to its own. Sadly though, where things don’t quite add up, is in the casting of the usually brilliant Domhnall Gleeson in a role which is decidedly too old for his years.
While Faraday is presented to us as a confirmed bachelor with severely debilitating hang-ups with regards to his lower middle-class origins, Gleeson simply lacks the gravitas and the years to be fully believable as such a character. And while both Poulter and Gleeson struggle with the clipped mid-century English accent, Ruth Wilson, on the other hand, manages a near perfect turn as a the plain, yet fascinating Caroline Ayres. Elsewhere, Liv Hill gives a scene-stealing and natural performance as teenage maid Betty, almost making up for the film’s other shortcomings in the casting stakes.
On the whole, Abrahamson offers a commendable, if a little flawed, adaptation of a much-loved novel which manages to be both scary and reasonably engaging. And while the supernatural aspect of the story is, thankfully, cranked up to the max in this aesthetically pleasing gothic thriller, there is definitely something lacking in the way the denouement has been handled by a less than perfect script.
The Little Stranger is in cinemas from the 21st September.