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Marchlands comes to DVD

Sunday, 20 March 2011 12:42

Three generations of families experience spine-tingling, spooky goings-on in this supernatural drama from ITV. In 1968, eight-year-old Alice Bowen drowned in a woodland lake; ghostly ripples from that tragic event threaten the cohesion and sanity of her family and future families living in the same old house, called ‘Marchlands’. A focal point in an idyllic rural village, Marchlands is burdened with some dismal secrets.

Based on US drama The Oaks, this mysterious mini-series spans the 1960s, 1980s and the present day, and features a stunning cast who get to grips with some emotionally challenging roles. They include Alex Kingston (Doctor Who, ER), Dean Andrews (Ashes to Ashes, Life on Mars), Denis Lawson (Bleak House, Holby City) and Tessa Peake-Jones (Only Fools and Horses, Doctors).

Marchlands on DVDIn 1968, Alice’s parents are trying to come to terms with her death months earlier, but it is ripping their relationship apart. Ruth and Paul (Jodie Whittaker and Jamie Thomas King) share the house with his parents (Lawson and Peake-Jones). Stern mother Evelyn appears to disapprove of Ruth and father Robert is suspiciously withdrawn.

In 1988, the Maynard family is disrupted by the strange behaviour of daughter Amy (Sydney Wade). Amy has what appears to be an imaginary friend called Alice, but her dad Eddie (Andrews) suspects that there is something more sinister at foot. Mum Helen (Kingston) would prefer to attack the problem from a scientific angle and calls in the child psychologist.

In 2010, Nisha (Shelley Conn) and Mark (Elliot Cowan) have just moved into Marchlands and eagerly anticipate of the imminent birth of their first child. Mark is distracted by problems at work but something else is also gnawing at his conscience. Home-alone a lot of the time, DIY-mad Nisha unearths a vibrant painting in the nursery featuring a little girl, and that is when increasingly disturbing things start happening about the house.

Consisting of five 40-minute episodes, Marchlands is a carefully paced and cleverly plotted drama. Viewers hoping to experience night terrors after watching it might as well go home now; this is a relatively gentle, slowly constricting series that makes sure you get to know the characters, and then starts stripping away layers to reveal their true nature.

There are a few chilling moments but on the whole Marchlands is all about the disarmingly quiet atmosphere, intrigue and creeping dread. Alice’s presence becomes increasingly tangible and less ethereal to both the audience and the characters as the story unravels. The series sometimes teeters between cliché and comfortable familiarity, but it is delivered with sufficient confidence and professionalism that it does not spoil the experience.

Of particular note is the way the narrative intelligently weaves through the three time periods, segueing from one to another in a very seamless fashion. For example, in 1968 a character might go out for a walk. As they pass a tree, it cuts to 1988 and some of the Maynard family playing in the woods. Then it cuts a third time, and now we are in 2010 and Mark is out for a stress-relieving jog.

The constant switching between eras underpins the fact that the place has a coherent history, that some events might repeat themselves whilst others spin off in a different direction. Credit goes to writers Stephen Greenhorn (Doctor Who, Echo Beach) and David Schulner (The Event, Trauma) for piecing it all together so deftly.

James Kent’s direction ensures that the story is strung together clearly and effectively. The cinematography often looks inviting thanks to the lush woodland setting, and this is never truer than when we see young Alice dashing through the trees on her way to the fateful encounter with the lake. Her long blond hair bounces in the dappled light and reminds us of how full of life she was prior to her terrible, very premature death.

The music and sound effects are equally evocative, from the haunting theme music to the frequent, bowl-loosening bass rumbles that signal that something scary is about to occur.

The only extras on the disc are a few short interviews with the cast and crew. Rather annoyingly, the interviews concentrate on the characters and events rather than giving any real insight into the production for those who have already seen it. This is the only real disappointment for an otherwise very solid and watchable series.

Marchlands (2011) is out on now, courtesy of ITV Studios Entertainment. The series has a total running time of 245 minutes approx, carries a ‘15’ certificate and the two-disc set retails for £19.99, or less from

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37