Television

Published on December 9th, 2014 | by Bean

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“Remember Me” Finale Review – Michael Palin’s BBC Ghost Story

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Ghost stories with happy endings are few and far between, yet Gwyneth Hughes’ three-part tale of possessive love, murder and loss “Remember Me” came to a close last night with no last-minute victims and an overall sense of peaceful balance. While short on overt scares this time around, the creative team capitalise on the dynamics between their characters, and the emotions they’ve spent time and effort investing Tom, Rob and Hannah with, relying upon revelations of the central mystery to do the gripping, rather than the things that go bump in the night.

While this choice diverges from the M.R.Jamesian influence it began with (where brutality and merciless doom is the order of the day), Hughes has made the right decision here. This forbearance is to her credit, as the propensity of many modern supernatural chillers to cram a surfeit of “boo!” beats into their endings reveals their narrative insecurities.“It’s not a love story!” shouts Palin’s Tom Parfitt of Scarborough Fair, but this yarn is, even more than a supernatural horror. A seasick love story. Enough elements remain disturbing to retain it’s right to the darker genre, particularly as we discover much about Tom’s tragic and painful past, but where a movie might up the ante, or increase the body count for it’s denouement, “Remember Me” plays a subtler game.

The pivotal attachment between Tom and Isha is a powerful bond over a century old; the maternalistic nature of it does nothing to lessen the impact, rather, it increases it’s unsettling quality. As we discover the relationship is reciprocal – a co-dependent need – the queasiness spirals, reaching a morbid nadir when we dredge up how Tom’s wife really died.

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Eileen Davies plays the care home resident Nancy who relays this secret to Hannah with a sorrowful furtiveness that lets the burdened child she once was shine through miserably. The ever-excellent Sheila Hancock also joins the brilliant cast in the finale, as sister of Tom’s doomed bride and keeper of another piece of the puzzle. Characters like these ladies, laden with exposition and allotted a brief time to convey the profundity of their revelations, abound in supernatural tales. The calibre here is very high, so each makes their own mark on the story and indelible impressions on Hannah. Hughes’ excellent script delights in having Hancock’s character recount the properties of the herbs from Scarborough Fair, all of which play their part in the tale; “Sage is for strength, Rosemary for faithfulness, and Thyme is for courage.”

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If “Remember Me” struggles with anything, it is the eternal conundrum of the genre; how to keep your spook scary. As Isha becomes a more visible figure in the narrative, so her ability to scare wanes. Like all monsters, allowing the imagination to fill in the blanks is far more frightening than anything on screen. Proving this is the most effective scene in the finale, as Sean’s swing is impossibly suspended, stretched taut by unseen hands. This moment works on our imagination in multiple ways; the thing you cannot see, the thing stood behind you, the physically impossible before your eyes, the inversion of a playful scenario to a sinister one. While the tension dissipates once Isha appears, the eldritch shadow she casts endures when she vanishes. “Remember Me” decides upon a re-balance of Isha’s influence to meet it’s needs; from menacing to merciless.8801496-large

Cinematographer Tony Miller paints a bleakly beautiful picture once again; the deep contrast of the slow-motion tide rolls remorselessly over the cloaked carcass it has claimed, and the looming storm clouds above the hill where Isha cradles the injured Tom are suitably foreboding. Rooms are lit sparsely allowing the shadows to take hold. This and a nicely page-turning feel to the story create the best platform possible, but it is the strength of performances from all three leads which makes “Remember Me” truly compelling. Most ghost stories must by proxy fall into the tension/release see-saw to achieve their ends, but they frequently scrimp on the depth of their characters in the rush to scare us. Smart authors, of any genre, persuade the audience to care about the protagonists, else, well, what’s the point?

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Mark Addy’s Rob is fraught by anxiety and self-doubt, and must rise above his own self-perceived limitations to protect the innocents, Hannah and her brother Sean – his substitute family. Addy brings real gravity to the role, marking himself out yet again as one of the UK’s most versatile and surprising actors. He wears Rob’s continued grief like a uniform; something that defines him. Given how much of the episode Jodie Comer spends in tears, by rights I should normally have had little patience for Hannah. However, Comer casts a spell over proceedings, imbuing this kind girl with real fortitude and spirit, whilst retaining the necessary naivety of the horror heroine archetype.

Vulnerability and a certain innocence is what all three characters have in common; even Tom, who murdered the wife he never evolved enough to warrant, operates in a guileless way, free from shame even whilst acting selfishly. As he explains, “I’ve been 10 years old all my life.”. What a concept. It is conceivable that to be both constrained and coddled by the love of a mother figure for any length of time, let alone one hundred years, would bear dubious results.

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Michael Palin’s performance is simultaneously revelatory and everything I anticipated; comics always make the best dramatic actors. Perhaps it is something to do with their sense of timing… Whatever it is, Palin makes you forget his past roles and his loveable real-life persona. The disparity between the agony he shows Rob under interrogation, and the ambivalence that manifests when confronted by Hannah reveals a twisted personality, stunted and irresponsible. His Tom Parfitt is a damaged man-child, in a perpetually warped embrace with his terrible guardian; their inevitable end the only way to lay the ghost of their bond to rest.

Review by Nina Clark

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Director at Nina Clark Music / The Musical Walkabout at Nina Clark Music
Bean is the family nickname of Nina Clark, singer, songwriter and professional musician. Nina's many nerdly passions, aside from music, include Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead and all things Whedon. (re. GoT, she has NOT read the books, so please be cool - no spoilers!)
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