I have never understood why people, in films, when they turn up to an old, creepy Gothic mansion don’t make their first action to be to hightail it out of there. Whether it is every Dracula movie ever made, The Haunting (1963) or even Casper (1995), people seem happy to venture into these abodes of the dead. What, that howling sound like a thousand lost souls being flagellated for their sins in Purgatory? Just some old piping acting up. Be it for family or gorewhore market, no one goes “You know what? B&B it tonight.”

The Canterville Ghost (1996) is out now on Blu-Ray and DVD from Second Sight and tells the story of an American clan in England determined to be haunted by Patrick Stewart in this light hearted family affair.

The Otis family, consisting of physicist dad Hiram, wife Lucille, twins Harry and Washington, and slightly bratty daughter Virginia (Neve Campbell) travel to a time locked region of England that possesses teenage dukes, no cars made after 1952 and the pub from Straw Dogs (1971). Hiram has gained a research place at an undisclosed university and has rented Canterville Hall off the current Lord Canterville (Leslie Phillips) along with the house keepers Mr & Mrs Umney (Joan Sims and Donald Sinden). However, from the get go strange noises and rattling of doors begin as the halls resident ghost Sir Simon de Canterville (Patrick Stewart) swears to drive them out. Only problem is neither parent can see him and none of the children seem that bothered. Finding himself outwitted Sir Simon ups the stakes, which the sceptic father blames on Virginia. Having fallen in love with a local teenage lord Virginia strikes up a plan with Canterville to make her father believe in ghosts via the medium of Shakespeare.

Is it a good movie?

Well it’s not bad. It just happens to be very much a television movie. Night scenes are shot in day time with a filter slapped across the lens and it has a shot pace that can be flaky at times; drawing out reaction shots far longer than needed. It’s what Sunday Afternoon feels like after dinner. That feeling of post meal boredom that, while not unpleasant, is not a riveting experience. You can watch it but at the same time you would also be watching One Man and His Dog (1976-present) had it been on.

For a film based on the work of Oscar Wilde, it doesn’t have any of the wit and wonder of the source material. Wilde’s novella was a send up of the gothic ghost story, mixing macabre and comedy, about a family that refuses to be frightened by a ghost who they keep getting one up on in comic fashion.
This, however, feels like a Young Adult story about Virginia. Partly because her sceptic father has, for some reason, decided that she alone is to blame for all the hijinks and partly because none of the other characters are fleshed out. Sir Simon comes across with a reasonable degree of character balance and development, though that might just be the power of Patrick Stewart himself.

I can’t say anything more about it because there’s not much left to say.  A pastoral ghost story with some great acting by Stewart that would normally be fitted into the 5 pm Sunday slot, you won’t miss anything by watching it nor will you gain anything by ignoring it.

Dir: Syd Macartney

Scr: Robert Benedetti

Starring: Patrick Stewart, Neve Campbell, Joan Sims, Donald Sinden, Lesley Philips

Prd: Robert Benedetti

DOP: Dennis C Lewiston

Music: Ernest Troost

Country: USA

Year: 1996

Run time: 92 mins

By Pat Fox