Innocent of all Harm: ‘Ghost in the Water’ reviewed

An interesting and thought-provoking piece of work from what some regard as a BBC golden age.

As part of their continuing endeavour to prise hidden gems from the criminally under-exploited BBC archives Simply this month give us the long-forgotten spooky 1982 drama Ghost in the Water.

Penned in 1973 by Black Country writer and Brönte specialist Edward Chitham, the book was sadly the only children’s novel that he wrote. The tale was brought to the screen by renowned producer Paul Stone and the inspiring director Renny Rye, and the pair obviously struck up a good working relationship on this production, as not long after they would shortly on to make the classic Christmas serial The Box of Delights.

Ghost in the Water was a relatively recent novel to adapt for television and can be seen as something of a children’s counterpart to the BBC’s regular Ghost Stories for Christmas strand, with its solitary showing happening during the teatime of 31 December.

Here, we are told the tale of Midlands teenagers Tessa and David and the former’s connection with a girl called Abigail Parkes who apparently died as a result of suicide in 1860. Tessa beings to experience memories from the 19th century, and she and David decide to investigate this mystery as part of a school project for the history society to which they being. Their research uncovers the fact that Abigail died in mysterious circumstances at a local canal following a dispute with her harsh mine-owning father. The subject matter at hand isn’t one that you would immediately consider for a children’s programme, and this tale of suicide, loss and religion could probably have sat equally alongside its adult counterparts. It’s fairly heavy stuff, and packs a lot into a fairly short running time. Tess and David set out to prove that Abigail’s death was not intentional in order to free her from the tormenting, supernatural remembrances.

The young cast cope very well with their roles, with Judith Allchurch taking the lead role of Tessa and Ian Stevens as her friend David. Neither appear to have continued in the acting profession, which is a shame as they give good, confident performances here. There are a couple of other fine performances amongst the small supporting cast: Jane Freeman impresses in a nice role as Tessa’s mother, Mrs Willetts, that is a world away from her Last of the Summer Wine battleaxe Ivy; Hilary Mason gives her usual best in the tiny one-scene role of Nan, whilst you can never go wrong with Paul Copley in any part.

Produced in what some regard as something of a BBC golden age, lots of talent from the corporation is utilised to bring us this adventure. Roger Limb of the prolific (and sorely-missed) Radiophonic Workshop provides a suitably atmospheric theme tune (which has been released on a number of Radiophonic Workshop compilations), even if the score itself is perhaps a little Arc of Infinity at times. Being a typical BBC production lots of other familiar names are present in the credits of Ghost in the Water, all of them combining to produce an interesting and thought-provoking piece of work. Rye creates an interesting atmosphere, and the Victorian scenes are very well-realised indeed with good use of the West Midlands locations.

The running time is just short of an hour, but the main feature is supplemented by a short contemporary Blue Peter piece. Extras seem to be to be in something of a decline on DVD releases these days, so credit is due for the inclusion of any bonus material such as this: It doesn’t happen nearly enough with archive television releases now. Visually, the programme stands up very well with a sharp image and rich, vibrant colours. The 16mm film stock is largely free of any scratches or defects, which you may expect to find in older material.

Simply deserve great credit for being prepared to release this type of obscure material, and it has to be hoped that lots of people take the plunge and give titles like Ghost in the Water a go in order to encourage further exploration of the BBC vaults.

Ghost in the Water’ is released on DVD by Simply Media on Monday 5 February 2018, RRP: £14.99/ Certificate: 12. Click here to order: We Are Cult readers get 10% off all Simply Media releases! Apply the discount code CULT10 to get 10% off all orders on our website If you apply the code at checkout you will get 10% off. Following this link will also automatically apply this discount:

Chris Orton occasionally writes odds and sods, including co-authoring books on Blake’s 7 and Doctor Who for Miwk Publishing. He can be found on Twitter at @chrisorton2011. Buy something with one of his designs from RedBubble…

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