The Haunting of Bly Manor is an unmissable gothic romance


The Haunting of Bly Manor’s faultless cast, razor-sharp writing, and decadent, beautiful filmmaking work in harmony to create an unmissable nine hours of television.

Just shy of two years after The Haunting of Hill House transformed the Netflix television scene with its bone-chilling narrative, creator Mike Flanagan returns with a new installment of the franchise: The Haunting of Bly Manor. While it doesn’t reach the same level of terrifying as its predecessor, it doesn’t need to (nor is it trying to). Bly Manor is an entirely different beast — a haunting gothic romance populated with beautifully written characters and a near-flawless ensemble cast.

Although it’s very much in the same vein (and it shares the same first three words in its title) as The Haunting of Hill HouseThe Haunting of Bly Manor is almost entirely unrelated to Flanagan’s first series. It stars a few of the same cast members (Victoria Pedretti, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Henry Thomas, and Kate Siegel all return), but the plot bears no relation to the events of Hill House. Instead of being based on Shirley Jackson’s novel like the first series, The Haunting of Bly Manor takes its inspiration from the works of Henry James — mainly The Turn of the Screw, but also sprinkled in with key elements from The Jolly Corner and The Romance of Certain Old Clothes. In addition to the new source material, Bly Manor also recruits a new (incredible) batch of actors, most notably T’Nia Miller, Rahul Kohli, Amelia Eve, Amelie Bea Smith, and Benjamin Evan Ainsworth.

The new series follows a young American woman named Dani, who accepts a position as an au pair for two young children, Flora (Bea Smith) and Miles (Ainsworth). Although the children’s uncle (Henry Thomas) assures her that the children are nothing but wonderful, Dani soon begins to discover that not everything is quite as peachy as it seems, and the Manor — as well as its staff, housekeeper Hannah (Miller), cook Owen (Kohli), and gardener Jamie (Eve) — is more than meets the eye.

Let’s get it out of the way: No, The Haunting of Bly Manor isn’t as scary as The Haunting of Hill House. But, as creator Mike Flanagan makes clear, it isn’t trying to be. While Hill House was a horror story centered on family, Bly Manor is a tragic, gothic tale, and above all else, a capital ‘R’ romance. Flanagan once again proves himself to be an incredibly adept writer. There’s not a single moment wasted across each of the show’s nine episodes, and the plot never drags on, despite how lingering and atmospheric the show is as a whole.

The works of Henry James are an intimidating source material that many have tried (and failed) to adapt properly before, but Flanagan somehow manages to weave together all the best elements from many of James’ most famous works while also developing his own authorial voice and never losing sight of his characters.

The show is a masterclass in how to adapt any work of fiction. It more than does justice to the original, but Flanagan’s own writing is still clearly on display. Just as episode five, “The Bent-Neck Lady” was our favorite episode of Hill House, if we were forced to chose just one standout from Bly Manor, it would also be episode five, “The Altar of the Dead”. We don’t want to give away spoilers here (because trust us, Bly Manor is a series you will immediately want to re-watch for easter eggs once you’ve finished it), but “Altar of the Dead” is a dizzying, mind-shattering hour that put’s T’Nia Miller’s incredible ability on fully display.

Despite the fact that it’s filled to the brim with ghosts, the true brilliance in The Haunting of Bly Manor lies in its characters, each more compelling and emotional than the next. Victoria Pedretti is incredibly endearing as Dani, who’s a fish out of water with her almost corny American accent and her gosh-gee-golly attitude. As a protagonist she’s incredibly easy to root for — not only can you tell that she is a thoroughly good person, but she’s also an intelligent one, which is a trait that’s often far too rare when it comes to horror.

Her two charges are Flora and Miles, both of whom are played with nearly jaw-dropping aptitude by child actors Amelie Bea Smith and Benjamin Evan Ainsworth. Flora, the younger of the two, is the picture of a prim and proper young lady, while her older brother Miles is a budding young gentleman, and both treat Dani like she’s the walking embodiment of all things good. However, behind their exteriors lurks something much darker— which you’ll already know all about if you’ve read The Turn of the Screw or seen any of its many adaptions. We won’t spoil it for your here — as the reveal itself is pretty incredible regardless of your familiarity with the source material — but we will say that Bea Smith and Ainsworth act with range and skill far beyond their years, and have no trouble whatsoever with the hearty dialogue or nuanced performances that such dual-sided roles require.

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Tending to both the house and its children are the other three major players: Hannah, Owen, and Jamie. The staff at Bly manor (like everyone else on the show) all give pitch-perfect performances, disappearing into their respective characters so easily that, by the time the second episode rolls around, you feel as if you’ve been working at Bly with them for years. Jamie (Eve), the manor’s rough-and-tumble gardner, is an often brash young woman with a fiery spirit and a heart of gold buried underneath all the dirt and grime. As great as she is, though, we can’t help but feel that she’s somewhat eclipsed by the other two staff members, Hannah and Owen.

Owen, played with copious amounts of charm by iZombie alum Rahul Kohli, is the manor’s good-natured cook, as talented in the kitchen as he is compassionate with the children. He’s a gentle giant — almost too altruistic for his own good at times — and his presence brought a smile to our faces any time he entered a scene. Though he spends most of the show cracking goofy dad jokes and playfully teasing the rest of the cast, Flanagan also gives Kohli a few scenes where he can really flex his dramatic muscles. And boy does he knock it out of the park.

The brightest star in the entire cast, though, is T’Nia Miller, who plays Bly’s housekeeper Hannah. Like Dani and the rest of Bly’s staff, you get an immediate sense that Hannah is an incredibly good-hearted person, but at the same time, Hannah is constantly rattled. She frequently drifts off in the middle of conversations, and appears startled and shaken whenever someone tries to get her attention. She’s a wisp of a woman — an incredibly jumpy one at that — and Miller’s incredible performance sells the harried, anxious nature of the character completely. While Pedretti’s Dani is the lead on paper, any time Hannah is present, we couldn’t help but feel like it was Hannah’s narrative. That’s just how good Miller is.

The rest of the cast is rounded out by Henry Thomas, Tahirah Sharif, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, and Kate Siegel are all in top form as well, but their characters are either too much of a supporting role, too wrapped up in spoilers, or both, for us to mention here.

When the first trailer for The Haunting of Bly Manor dropped, once the excitement about a new Flanagan show subsided, the inevitable question arose: How could this possibly top The Haunting of Hill House? While they have a few key elements (and cast members) in common, there’s no need for Bly Manor to “top” Hill House, because, at it’s core, it’s an incredibly different (but nonetheless mesmerizing) show. With it’s hypnotic score, lavish visuals, and decadent costumes, Bly Manor has all the markers of a traditional gothic Romance story, and just as many compelling love stories at its core to earn that title.

Razor-sharp writing and a stunningly talented cast are the hallmarks of The Haunting of Bly Manor, and our only bone to pick with the show is that there isn’t more of it for us to love. The Haunting of Bly Manor is, in two words, perfectly splendid.

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The Haunting of Bly Manor arrives on Netflix on October 9. Are you planning to watch it?