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7 Things You Need to Know About The Haunting of Bly Manor

What's with the creepy dolls and that steely gaze? Victoria Pedretti, Henry Thomas, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, T'Nia Miller, and more of the cast of director Mike Flanagan's follow-up to The Haunting of Hill House clue us in.

by | October 7, 2020 | Comments

When Mike Flanagan dropped his television adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix in 2018, the horror series became a hit for the streamer.

Telling the story of the traumatized Crain family — played by Carla Gugino, Henry Thomas, Timothy Hutton, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Victoria Pedretti, Kate Siegel, Elizabeth Reaser, and Michiel Huisman — the show explored the impact of trauma and grief as each family member evolved over the years. And as they returned to their childhood home to face the ghosts of their past and the demons of their present, The Haunting of Hill House, Certified Fresh with a 93% Tomatometer score on 96 reviews, impressed critics and horror fans alike.

It’s been two years, and Flanagan has returned with most of his crew  for The Haunting of Bly Manor. The new installment in the Haunting anthology franchise also features newcomers, including Amelia Eve, T’Nia Miller, Rahul Kholi, Tahirah Sharif, Amelie Bea Smith, and Benjamin Evan Ainsworth.

This new series’ story adapts Henry James’ gothic novella The Turn of the Screw, an 1898 ghost story that follows a young governess who watches over an orphaned brother and sister at the haunted Bly Manor in Essex, England. The majority of Flanagan’s story takes place in 1987, but still explores issues of love, loss, and the soul-stirring grief that follows.

But how will the season’s core group of friends — or, its “chosen family,” — chart a new narrative course for the anthology? And what’s with those dolls? The cast behind season 2 of Netflix’s hit horror-drama spoke with Rotten Tomatoes recently and teased a handful of ghostly goodies.


 1.  It’s About Ghosts, New Connections, and Escaping the Past

THE HAUNTING OF BLY MANOR - VICTORIA PEDRETTI

(Photo by EIKE SCHROTER/NETFLIX © 2020)

In The Turn of the Screw, a young governess looks after two troubled kids. The Haunting of Bly Manor tells the story of au pair Dani Clayton (Pedretti), who arrives at the manor excited to take on this new job and hoping to start a new life. 

“Dani first found herself just being born and brought up in a place where she doesn’t really fit in where she can’t be fully herself,” Pedretti explains. “And so she escapes that environment seeking something for herself, seeking real fulfillment. She shows up, and meets these two children that have been abandoned after dealing with incredibly traumatizing and stressful experiences.” 

Trauma can act as a ghost in art and life, and Dani’s arrival to Bly Manor doesn’t help her run from her past — instead, it forces her to face her demons head-on.


2. There’s a “Soul Family” At Its Center

The Haunting of Bly Manor

(Photo by EIKE SCHROTER/NETFLIX © 2020)

Bly Manor‘s central family will look a bit different from its predecessor’s. In Flanagan’s Hill House, we saw trauma slowly fracture what was once a strong family unit; the new series flips the script a bit and shows how similar wounds can connect people from different walks of life in an unlikely community.

“These people, they’ve all had traumatic experiences with their blood family, or they don’t have any family,” Miller, who plays Bly Manor’s housekeeper Hannah Grose, explains. “Actually, the love there is true, it’s real, and it’s their soul family. And sometimes soul families in real life, modern life, actually carry us through far more than our biological ones. Family comes in all shapes and forms, and I think that’s beautifully portrayed in this story.”

Eve, who plays Bly Manor gardener Jamie, agrees: “I think it’s the connection that they all need. And they’re all hoping for it, but don’t realize they need it. It creeps up on them that they are a part of this [sort of] union they had no idea they were lacking. And that kind of completes them as human beings in a way.”


3. There’s a Lot Going On Behind Peter’s Steely Gaze

THE HAUNTING OF BLY MANOR - OLIVER JACKSON-COHEN

(Photo by EIKE SCHROTER/NETFLIX © 2020)

One of the more secretive characters in the season is Peter Quint, played by Jackson-Cohen, whose performance in Hill House as the Crains’ damaged, drug-addicted son/brother Luke brought the actor wide acclaim. The character he plays in Bly Manor is vastly different.

Described in Vanity Fair recently as “a calculated business associate of the uncle’s who tends to take whatever he wants from Bly Manor, regardless of permission,” Peter was taken directly from The Turn of the Screw. He’s still a man of mystery, however.

When pressed about Peter’s steely-eyed gaze in the show’s official trailer, Jackson-Cohen sidestepped spoilers about his character and his relationship with Dani to reveal what makes his character’s countenance so engaging.

“I was born looking like that,” Jackson-Cohen joked, adding, “Peter is a really, really interesting character — there are so many sides to him. You [eventually] get to see an awful lot more of where he’s from, and why he’s the way he is — I’m really excited.”


4. Bly Manor Was Just as Grand as It Looks on Screen 

(Photo by EIKE SCHROTER/NETFLIX © 2020)

The Haunting of Hill House set the bar high for set design, especially considering what Flanagan and his crew accomplished in the installment’s sixth episode, “Two Storms.” But given that the new series takes place in a completely new era and location, we asked just how grandiose and detailed the Bly Manor set was.

“The sets were absolutely [stunning],” Eve, who plays gardener Jamie, said. “We had the ground floor in one studio and the top floor in another studio and outside was a separate place, completely. But it certainly was still big that you felt the kind of the grandness of the house as you were walking through it.”

Miller, who appears as housekeeper Mrs. Grose, agreed, quoting one of this season’s catchphrases: “‘It really was perfectly splendid.’ The little details that we don’t always get to see on screen — the art department did such an amazing job. The littlest of things that I recognized from my own childhood that were around in the ’80s, as well, the artwork, the furniture … it was such a tactile set, and you just wanted to touch everything and open drawers and cabinets — and there were things in them! It was just a brilliant, great set.”


5. The Series Is Too Scary for Amelie Bea Smith and Benjamin Evan Ainsworth To Watch

THE HAUNTING OF BLY MANOR (L to R) VICTORIA PEDRETTI and BENJAMIN EVAN AINSWORTH

(Photo by EIKE SCHROTER/NETFLIX © 2020)

Amelie Bea Smith, best known as the voice of the titular character in animated hit Peppa Pig, and newcomer Benjamin Evan Ainsworth play the young siblings and were both thrilled when they learned they booked the roles.

“It was just one scene. It was one self-tape that we had to do,” Ainsworth explained. “There wasn’t a callback or anything. Just straight to offer, which is so crazy and amazing. So that night, I was just so chuffed with myself and happy, and we were all celebrating, so it was really fun.”

As excited as the young actors were in booking these roles, they don’t fall into Bly Manor‘s target demographic. Smith is just nine years old, and Ainsworth is a couple of years older.

“I think I’m allowed to watch little bits of it, but I think I’d be terrified watching some of it, because I don’t watch many scary movies,” the young actress said. “It’s not my cup of tea.”

The same is true for Ainsworth: “I am so scared by scary movies. So I don’t think I’ll be allowed to watch them. [I was even] creeped out on set.”


6. The Dolls Hold the Keys to Bly Manor’s Secrets

(Photo by EIKE SCHROTER/NETFLIX © 2020)

Flanagan has previously talked about Bly Manor‘s dolls, telling Vanity Fair, “I think for kids, it’s about control. Kids have such little agency. Dolls provide that. But there’s also a darker side to it. Ownership, claiming someone, ceasing to look at them as a human, and instead, looking at them as an object, as a doll…we can draw lines to all sorts of toxic romantic relationships that way, and get into gender politics and the objectification of women in particular by this genre.”

Asked about the odd little toys in the series and the giant dollhouse she got to play with, Smith revealed their bigger purpose in the series: “They’re just really amazing little dolls. But the dollhouse, itself, is a clue to the whole house. It has lots of secrets and Flora uses it to protect everybody.”


7. Mike Flanagan Has Built a Soul Family of His Own

Look at Flanagan’s work over the past decade, and you’ll see some faces pop up again and again. One example is his professional partnership with Thomas, who, aside from appearing in Bly Manor as estranged uncle Henry Wingrave, has played young Hugh Crain in The Haunting of Hill House, Tom in Netflix’s Gerald’s Game, and took on the iconic role of Jack Torrance in the big-screen adaptation of Doctor Sleep that Flanagan wrote and directed based Stephen King’s sequel to The Shining.

Flanagan’s tendency to reuse talent on multiple projects is reminiscent of a theater troupe or a stage family, which lines up perfectly with the ongoing familial component featured throughout his work.

“It’s beneficial because you’re already comfortable,” Thomas said. “There’s a trust there in the sense that he knows what I can do. I know how he works, and it’s a very comfortable way to work, actually, as an actor. A lot of times, getting to know you might stretch into a whole shoot, in terms of director-actor relations. It’s a really good feeling. And it’s nice to kind of build a friendship with the people that you’re working with. When you see each other again at work, it’s like seeing your own family at the office.”

The Haunting of Bly Manor launches on Friday, October 9, on Netflix.

Correction: The quote “It was just one scene. It was one self-tape that we had to do…”  previously attributed to Smith has been corrected to be attributed to Ainsworth.


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