Remember Me: Sunday, BBC One
Ideal viewing for these Godless winter evenings, Remember Me is a highly promising three-part ghost story made all the more effective by the casting of 'cuddly national treasure' Michael Palin in a central role. Given his involvement, the timeslot and channel, its ghoulish intensity could almost be described as subversive.
An underrated and underused dramatic actor, he's wonderful as Tom, an enigmatic, twinkly pensioner who's endured solitary exile in a gloomy terraced house for decades. Tom is what would emerge if Alan Bennett's typewriter ever became haunted.
Desperate to escape his mysterious curse, he eventually fled to an elderly care home, the presence of which makes Remember Me feel like an even more horrifying version of Ricky Gervais' Derek. The lead care-worker is even named Hannah, which I insist is no coincidence (it probably is).
A teenager living in a house where you can practically smell the damp – every character seems trapped in their own dark, cluttered space – Hannah became embroiled in Tom's mystery following the shocking death of his social worker, who was hurled from his window by powerful forces unknown.
Also on the case is a sympathetic detective (the quietly impressive Mark Addy), who's the sort of sad-sack cop who spends his evenings alone supping melancholy pints in the local Dog and Gizzard.
Indebted to classic British ghost stories such as M.R. James' Whistle and I'll Come to You, My Lad, this atmospheric spook-show is a tightly woven knot of unease. Writer Gwyneth Hughes understands that horror tends to be more effective when rooted in a mundane, everyday environment. While picturesque Yorkshire towns have been the setting for countless Sunday night dramas over the years, here the effect is anything but cosy. What with this and Happy Valley, I'd be surprised if anyone ever visits there again.
Director Ashley Pearce masterfully exploits the underlying terror of Yorkshire's stunning rural landscape, where the drizzle pours incessantly from vast, oppressive, spectral clouds. It's an immensely confident production full of darkly beautiful imagery. That strange spectre of a veiled, bedraggled woman rising from a desolate beach will linger in the memory for quite some time.
Kudos too to the sound department, who really earn their keep with a wonderfully chilling soundtrack of bumps, groans, scuttles and drips. While jump scares, i.e. sudden loud noises, are often used as a cheap device in horror, here they worked in tandem with a carefully constructed atmosphere of compelling dread.
The claustrophobic scenes set in Tom's abandoned home were highly effective. A particularly nice touch was the sparing use of subliminal movement in his collection of antique photographs, the subtlety of which was blown asunder by the orgiastic, heart-stopping climax which managed to encompass every haunted house cliché – creepy attics, rocking chairs, slamming doors etc. - without slipping into outright parody.
Granted, even these scenes had their flaws. Hannah's visit to Tom's sepulchral abode was undermined by some textbook moments of dumb horror illogic. While characters in supernatural yarns obviously don't know the rules, some of her actions were downright daft. Who, while creeping around at night in a creaky house crammed with spooky old artefacts, would then decide to sit at a piano and play from some sheet music? Even Bobby Crush would resist that temptation.
Naturally, her impromptu performance of Scarborough Fair invited further ghostly creaks from upstairs. So thank God she had her torch to investigate them with. But it was too late. Her innocent recital of the haunting folk standard dragged her further into Tom's nightmare world.
“You brought the song away in your heart,” he railed, “now you can never take it back!” Someone should warn Simon & Garfunkel.
Fleeting moments of silliness aside - moments which, in any case, are arguably part and parcel of the genre - Remember Me is clearly the most outstanding supernatural drama to grace our screens in years.
It's a supremely unsettling experience, and I for one applaud the BBC for their bold commitment to scaring the bejesus out of unsuspecting licence payers.