The Thirteenth Tale
No spoilers included, this review is for those who missed it and are thinking of catching up on iPlayer.
Just before watching the BBC ghost story, The Thirteenth Tale, someone told me that it’s their favourite book and that they wouldn’t be watching the adaptation as they weren’t sure how it could be done. I’ve not read the book so had nothing to compare it to, but having seen the TV version I can imagine that the central conceit is easier to pull off in book form. I won’t say anymore so as to avoid spoilers, but once you’ve seen it you’ll know what I mean.
The stellar casting of “Britain's Best Television Actor” Olivia Colman and the ever fantastic Vanessa Redgrave made this one of the shows to watch over the last couple of weeks. Adapted for the screen from Diane Setterfield’s 2006 novel this is set up as a ghost story with plenty of familiar elements, from a haunted house to mysterious deaths, with spooky twins and a narrator along the way, but is more of a tale of loneliness and disconnection. The story unfolds in two times, the contemporary aspect where Redgrave's writer Vida Winter is at death’s door, telling her tale to Colman’s Margaret Lea who herself hides a tragic past. The scenes set in the present help fill in some of the gaps from the story set in the past as Margaret carries out some investigations of her own in between listening to Vida’s story, all after being handpicked to write her biography. In these present day scenes not an awful lot happens, but in securing the services of the two great actresses of their generations the scene play with plenty of gravity and watchability.
Most of the ‘action’ happens in the past and is set on the grounds of the old mansion that’s central to the story. These scenes are anchored by some really good performances from the younger actors, from the children through to Game Of Thrones Sophie Turner as the teenage Vida, as the adult characters dip in and out of these scenes only to advance the younger characters personality traits towards the denouement.
It’s probably sounding more boring than it actually it and the ninety minute running time goes by quickly. It’s good to see that the BBC are still investing in quality drama, where excellent writing and acting go hand in hand, especially after some of their more dubious commissioning decisions in 2013 (Ripper Street I’m looking at you). In the end although it’s not very scary and TV viewers might see the twist (or a variation of) coming a mile off, this is a diverting hour and a half and worth a watch in the wet and windy days. Although not quite as good as the book by the sounds of it.
You can watch The Thirteenth Tale on BBC iPlayer