In 1920s London, paranormal investigator Harry Price (Rafe Spall) is called upon by rising political star Edwin Goodwin to investigate the odd goings on in the MP’s home and the apparent mental disintegration of his wife Grace, who seem to be the focal point of the bizarre goings-on. Harry teams up with the family’s maid, Sarah Grey (Cara Theobold), and the two attempt to investigate the haunting and deduce if a ghost or something more earthly is behind the horrors.
Christmas schedules always offer something supernatural, and often ideally period, in nature and Harry Price: Ghost Hunter fits the bill brilliantly- a well-made tv movie that was also patently a set-up/pilot for a tv series. Unfortunately I’m late to the party as usual, as this originally aired in December 2015 and that tv series never came, which is something of a surprise- considering ITV had huge success with other period dramas such as Downtown Abbey at the time, a mystery series like this on Winter Sunday nights seems a sure-fire winner, with Harry Price and Sarah Grey an ideal British Mulder and Scully for some period X-Files-like shenanigans.
Maybe it was too obvious- admittedly its hardly high-concept, but the format seems to be a success, the period setting is pretty convincing as one would expect, and the cast perfectly fine. Two of the lead actresses also featured in Downtown Abbey, oddly enough. While Spall initially seems a bit of an odd fit for Harry Price, the subtlety of his performance wins through in the end and the brooding tension from his back-story (originally a charlatan and a devout sceptic, its clear he’s got a subconscious need to be proven wrong) suggests a clever narrative over a series of tales. Considering its period setting, its also deliberately modern, with the Sarah Grey character clearly a very modern woman struggling in the face of a very male-oriented world.
If I had any real criticism of it, its perhaps that the script obviously wants the best of both worlds- the investigators finally arrive at a rather prosaic explanation for whats going on, but it also offers a visual suggestion that there’s more going on than such a mundane solution offers (Grey herself witnessing a paranormal event that suggests that poor Grace is not seeing mere hallucinations at all). I don’t know if, had the format gone to a full series, that such a balancing act would have been able to be supported over a long arc.
So while I suppose its rather forgettable (it never went to series, after all, so clearly it was found wanting by the execs or the public at the time of its transmission) as a piece of Seasonal supernatural drama it works pretty well (watching this kind of stuff in the glow of the Christmas tree lights is a strange shade of perfect). Its just a pity, considering it didn’t go to series, that its so consciously setting one up over its last ten minutes, because it robs the film of proper closure, instead ending with that tease familiar in so many modern movies. Its all very well when you know Super Hero Caper Two, Three or Four is coming, but if that follow-up never comes it feels rather, well, all Alien Covenant, and that’s not good at all.
(Harry Price: Ghost Hunter is currently available on Amazon Prime in the UK).