The Thirteenth Tale 
Heyday Films, UK
90 Min 
Release BBC Two: 30th December 2013

DIR James Kent
EXEC Rosie Alison
PROD Norma Heyman, David Heyman
SCR Christopher Hampton
DP Jean-Phillipe Gossart
CAST Olivia Colman, Vanessa Redgrave, Emily Beecham

This BBC drama was aired on the 30th December and is based upon the best-selling gothic novel The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. The film contains all the essential features we’d expect from a contemporary BBC drama: lavish locations with well-framed exterior shots, baroquely decked interior shots and moody lighting to create the designated spooky atmosphere. This film may sound overtly established with its classic ghost story aesthetic, but the screenplay by Christopher Hampton and direction by James Kent manage to subvert the expected clichés and give the audience a gripping and well-told story through and through.

Olivia Colman plays the biographer, a somewhat introverted and morose woman with plenty of her own issues, who comes to visit the author (Vanessa Redgrave) in her gigantic and decorative house in the heart of the Yorkshire moors. Colman is superb as usual and Redgrave is mesmerizing with her every look proportional to a deep and meaningful void of memories.


Redgrave’s character is close to death and chooses to tell her thirteenth tale in account of what really happened, on previous occasions she has made all sorts of stories up to the press. However, she strikes a connection distilled on fascination with Colman’s character and the truth begins to unravel. As this tale evolves, things become more and more bizarre and suspicious until all hair is raised in the final act.

The narrative is very concerned with atmosphere, which is not surprising considering the beautiful Yorkshire locations (including Broughton Hall and Duncombe Park), hence in some areas one might feel this story would’ve been better wrapped up in a 60 minute slot. However, as someone infatuated with the timeframe of film, I feel this story was rightly served and that the atmosphere was exquisitely well established and irrefutably necessary for the nature of this film. The story was gripping throughout and the performances a highlight to be reckoned with.

4/5 stars

Watch a preview below:


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