REMEMBER ME - James Walton, The Spectator

Posted on 6th Dec 2014

BBC1’s authentically spooky three-part ghost story Remember Mehasn’t yet revealed what’s really going on in that gloomy Yorkshire town. Nonetheless, the second episode did clear up one mystery. We now know how Michael Palin managed to find room in his schedule for what the advance publicity described as his first leading dramatic TV role since 1991’s G.B.H. — by leaving most of the work to the other actors. His name may have appeared first in Sunday’s opening credits, but the man himself didn’t show up until the 54th minute of 58. 

When he is around, Palin plays Tom Parfitt, a slightly improbable eightysomething tormented by visions of a mysterious Indian woman — and by the tendency of taps to drip, lights to flicker and sea-snail shells suddenly to appear wherever he goes. Then again, he’s not the only one. Shirley (Noreen Kershaw), who works at the nursing home where Tom briefly stayed, saw a sari-clad figure at his window at the same time that his social worker fell through it to her death. But now Shirley appears to be dead too, killed by an alliance of particularly ferocious taps and lights. (The shells, as far as I could see, played no part.)

Meanwhile, Hannah (Jodie Comer), a teenage carer at the home, joined the rest of us in the search for Palin, eventually tracking him down to Scarborough where the shells and visions went into overdrive until he disappeared again.

But what makes Remember Me such an intriguing watch is that these ringing set-pieces are interspersed with several equally peculiar happenings presented in a far more matter-of-fact style. The programme is also rooted in an entirely recognisable modern Britain — or at least an entirely recognisable TV version of it, complete with dysfunctional parents, saintly Muslims and a grizzled cop with family issues. The effect is to make almost everything we see (and everything we don’t) irresistibly menacing.

And that certainly includes the landscape. Traditionally, the role of Yorkshire moors on Sunday-night television has been to provide a winning backdrop to heart-warming shows about lovable policemen, vets and old blokes sliding down hills in tin baths. Here, they’ve never loured more threateningly.

Now and again, Remember Me perhaps overdoes its main tropes, with no tap left undripping or light unflickering. On the whole, though, it has such a touching respect for the ghost-story genre — and goes about its business with such a commendable absence of knowing irony — that the result is so defiantly old-school as to end up feeling refreshingly original.

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