Yorkshire is having quite a traumatic year, telly wise. First the peaceful residents of the Yorkshire valleys were stalked by a sadistic murderer and serial rapist in Sally Wainwright’s unassailable Happy Valley, and now, in Remember Me (BBC1, Sunday, 9pm), a tiny community in Millthorpe is being haunted by a rotting haggard of a ghost. It certainly is grim up North, it seems.
BBC1’s new supernatural thriller stars Michael Palin – in his first role in a tv drama for over twenty years, no less – as Tom Parfitt, a cantankerous pensioner who’s so petrified of the mystery lurking at the top of his stairs that he fakes a fall and then insists on being admitted into a care home, where he immediately becomes a witness in an eerie and violent death.
Though set in the modern day, Gwyneth Hughes’s three-part horror has all the trappings of a classic ghost story. An isolated setting, a vengeful ghost, unremittingly blackened skies and the most unsettling suitcase in television history, Remember Me is very much in the style of The Turning of the Screw and The Woman in Black.
But if you think the presence of every horror-trope going will make the story predictable you’re in for an upsetting shock. It’s consistently frightening; with seemingly every scene making your skin crawl with the subtle suggestions that something is lurking and watching in the shadows. The relentless drip of a tap, or the cutting squeak of a floor board, or a split-second glimpse of the ghost all serve to escalate the anxiety until it’s too much to bear. You’ll likely spend so much time screaming into your pillow you’ll start to taste feathers.
What makes it even better than most ghost stories, though, is that almost every character has a complex personal life and forms dynamic relationships. Palin is perfectly cast as Tom; shifty, uncomfortable and curmudgeonly whilst also conveying the piteous terror of an “80-odd”-year-old man haunted by a tragic secret.
Mark Addy is also brilliant as a browbeaten detective who’s isolated from his family and stuck in a rut at work. But it’s Jodie Comer (My Mad Fat Diary) who is the revelation as teenage care assistant Hannah. Wonderfully kind-hearted and gutsy enough to enter Tom’s spooky home alone at night, our attention is increasingly drawn to Hannah as she helps the elderly lodger to investigate the unsettling mystery while bearing the brunt of her alcoholic mother’s grief and caring for her bratty younger brother; Comer is never anything less than an absorbing presence.
Given that Hughes has surely already emptied the ghost story’s entire bag of tricks in this episode, it remains to be seen if she can stretch the creepy tension across another two instalments. Nevertheless, Remember Me is one of the most terrifying horror stories seen in a long while, one that’ll have you sleeping with the lights on and one eye trained suspiciously on your luggage. Just in case.
Click here to watch Remember Me on BBC iPlayer