The following article contains MAJOR spoilers for The Haunting of Bly Manor. Readers beware!
The Haunting of Bly Manor is chock full of plot twists and surprise reveals that stack on top of each other as each episode goes by. For the cast, who experienced the plot twists in a similar way due to the manner of script distribution, the twists hit just as hard.
“You get the scripts as you go along. So when you get the first script, you won’t have the last ones,” Amelia Bea Smith (“Flora Wingrave”) explained in an interview with The Beat. “And then as you go along, you get the pieces of the story together. There’s lots of different layers to it.”
“When we were filming episode two, we only had up to, like episode eight. We still didn’t have the last episode. We had to ask a couple questions because we didn’t have all the episodes, so we didn’t know all of the stories,” said Benjamin Evan Ainsworth (“Miles Wingrave”). This process meant that they were asking questions during the first couple episodes in order to guide their character’s actions. “It was kind of a mystery for us as well,” he admitted.
Miles and Peter Quint
One major reveal that the series was building up to was the concept that ghosts can inhabit human bodies. Specifically, we see Peter Quint (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) accomplish this with Miles. For Ainsworth, this was an exciting way to change up his approach to playing the character, “It was amazing splitting up the character with some different ways of playing [him], one being pretty dark, different, and quite scary with the other being really charming and happy.”
We can see these changes in Miles in the moments when he adopts a more mature stance, mimicking Peter’s, or, more clearly, when he uses language. “Swearing and cussing is quite mature language for my age. It was quite weird at first, experimenting and feeling out what felt natural and what didn’t,” Ainsworth explained. “I just need to keep in the character and remember that my character, at the minute, was an older person. He was old enough to be able to do that, so I just needed to think, this isn’t something I should be worried about, because my character does it all the time.”
Dani’s Past & Future
Dani Clayton (Victoria Pedretti) arrives at Bly Manor already haunted by the ghosts of her past. Having broken up with her fiancé just seconds before his untimely death, she is horrified to catch his ghost in the reflection of a mirror, forever shrouded in shadow except for the shine of headlights reflected in his round glasses. These scenes serve for the most surprising jump scares in the early half of the series and contributes to a lot of Dani’s anguish.
“I think Dani becomes haunted in multiple ways throughout the season,” Pedretti explained. “At the beginning, we find her haunted by her past and her experiences [when] she comes to Bly. I’ve been thinking about it and expressing it as her feelings towards herself — her inability to move forward beyond a certain experience that makes her see herself in a way where she is isolated. She’s seeing something that nobody else can see, which is that she’s not good, that she’s bad and so she doesn’t deserve love or care. That’s a horrible thing to be haunted with. I think a lot of us deal with feelings of not fitting in or not being deserving, but she eventually tries to confront those things.”
After her experience at Bly, Dani leaves partially healed but forever scarred. The latter due to her experience after taking in Viola’s spirit (and general horrors experienced at Bly), but the former due to her finding love in meeting Jamie (Amelia Eve). For Eve and Pedretti, building a relationship came in a realistic way. “We were developing a relationship personally, bit by bit, as we were able to spend time together,” Pedretti explained.
She continued, “Early on, [the] shooting was just so demanding I didn’t actually have the ability to spend that much time [with Eve]. But then we were talking about, and we were like, ‘But that works.’ We don’t have an established relationship. So, that level of mystery is actually feeding the way we were interacting with each other in a great way. And then we got to get to know each other as we were exploring the characters relationship over time.”
Henry’s Dark Side
For Henry Wingrave (Henry Thomas), there was more than just physical ghosts haunting him. Spending most of the time in his office, he is haunted by the darkest part of himself and the trust that he broke with his family. We see the moments where he is in conflict with himself play out in a magnetic performance by Thomas on screen.
“It was a fun challenge,” Thomas explained, in regards to playing scenes with himself. “It was technically difficult to shoot, because obviously since I was playing both parts I can only be in one place at one time.” A track on a timer was required to mirror the camera movements exactly. “But what that did also was it locked me into one take. So, I had to match that performance on that take. I had to plot a lot more than I usually do because I didn’t obviously have another scene partner. It made me appreciate working with other actors a lot more than just working with myself. I’m not ready for the one man show. Let’s put it that way.”
Despite all tragedies, Henry is one of the people who make it out of Bly relatively unscathed. Flora and Miles are whisked away by a redeemed Uncle Henry, and both manage to forget the events of Bly. “It’s fun to play people that redeem themselves, because it gives us all hope,” Thomas mused. “These characters are are pretty rich, and they’re all dealing with a lot of really horrible things that are either a little below the surface or things you never see coming. A tableau like that makes for some good drama and, hopefully, we can present that in a nice horror package and everyone is happy.”
Hannah Grose’s Fate
As the series begins, there are several moments in time where Bly’s housekeeper, Hannah Grose (T’Nia Miller) is haunted by a suspicious crack on the wall. This twist was one of my favorites to unravel. Did it have to do with her estranged husband? Did she kill someone in her past? Was she running away from something? But in episode five, “The Altar of the Dead”, we finally get our answer. She’s been a ghost this whole time and the pattern on the walls is the pattern on the bricks of the well where her corpse is.
Miller gushed over this reveal, saying, “I didn’t see it coming, and I know other people who watched it saw it coming, there were hints. But I didn’t have a Scooby Doo,” (Which means clue, in East End slang). She continued, “For me, up until that moment, she was a bit like the nurse from Romeo and Juliet, you know, she’s very well put together, very jolly, loving doing things and all that. Yeah, very English in that respect.”
“When I got to it, I was like, ‘Shut up! What? I’m a ghost? I’ve never played a ghost before.’ This is bloody exciting, and I love a good prank. I will prank you, and scare you, and jump out at you. I live for those moments. And so to play a ghost is super exciting.” The challenge came in not knowing how to play a ghost. She explained, “I don’t know how to play that, and I can’t based it on real life because I’m alive. But she’s a ghost [who] doesn’t know that she’s a ghost so then I was like okay. She’s somebody who wanders off into these memories, into these moments, and I’m a bit ditzy in real life. Although I play these very educated, well put together women, I’m actually rather ditzy, so it sort of lended itself to Hannah in that way.”
Hannah’s ghost was unique in many ways. Because she would simply not accept the fact that she was dead, she behaved differently to Peter Quint or Rebecca Jessel (Tahirah Sharif). She could speak to people, touch them, she could change her clothing. This all happened instantaneously, without the agonizing learning curve that Peter was forced through. She worked alongside Flanagan and even costume designer, Lynn Falconer, to cultivate Hannah. Miller explained that Hannah’s wardrobe changes depending on what year she is in, which explains why she is not in the same clothes she’s wearing when she dies like the other ghosts.
“It was really a collaboration with Mike and my own experiences,” the actress explained about the development of Hannah’s character. “What it’s like to grieve, to grieve self, to grieve loss of self. We have these ideas of ourselves, and, similarly to Hannah, I think all of us sometimes we’re in denial of what we’re going [through]. We push emotions down and push things away because we don’t want to face them. And Hannah was doing that all along, until she has no choice but to face the biggest demon, the biggest ghost, which is herself.”
Past just the struggle of figuring out how to play a ghost, the technical side of the story also presented challenges. “The Altar of the Dead” is the kind of episode that requires a rewatch simply due to the erratic nature of Hannah’s story. “It was a headfuck. It really was,” Miller exclaimed. She and Liam Gavin, the director of the episode, worked together to create a timeline when shooting the episode due to the fact that episodes are already often shot out of order.
Through it all, Miller really embraced the role presented to her. “We get into this job, this industry, as actors, because we love to play. And this was an opportunity to really play,” she proclaimed. “It’s the stuff of dreams, I get to be a ghost!”
Jamie, The Narrator
Bly Manor is actually a story told as a frame narrative. The main ghost story is told fireside by a narrator (Carla Gugino), who is eventually revealed to be an older Jamie (Amelia Eve), the gardener at Bly. More than that, she is telling the story to the people who have lived the story, the older versions of Owen (Rahul Kohli), Henry, Miles, and Flora. At this point in their adulthood, the memories of Bly Manor are gone for Flora and Miles, who don’t even realize the story they’re hearing is about them. But for Jamie, the memory is still fresh and she was left with a final tragedy after finding Dani dead in the lake at Bly after living many years happily with her.
When approaching the character, Amelia Eve said that the description she got for Jamie was “sarcastic, blunt, and prefers plants to people.” Only after meeting with Flanagan did Eve realize what part Jamie played in the story. “He gave me an idea of what he had in mind for her, but he was like, but I want you to collaborate with me and I want you to go away and fill this out and tell me what you’ve come up with and then we’ll work together,” Eve explained.
Building Jamie, Eve pulled from multiple sources, getting inspiration from the time period, the music, even her mother. “I wanted to just really pinpoint how she had learned all of the skills that she’d learned, and why she was the way she was. What had made her slightly jaded, or a little bit sarcastic and blunt on the surface.” She also cited an article about female squatters in London (here is a similar one), that inspired a large part of Jamie’s identity.
These women were given a sense of freedom in their lives and allowed to be themselves and be around other women. They would build up crumbling houses and turn them into homes. “I think that was a huge key for Jamie for me, in figuring out who she was. A lot of it was pulling little bits together and then creating a big ass backstory that I shared with Mike, that he loved and made even better and then whacked it into a monologue in episode six. So that was Jamie’s monologue and Jamie’s backstory.”
For Eve, the reveal of Jamie becoming the narrator was met with nothing but excitement. “Just pure speechless excitement,” she exclaimed. “You always want to be the guy who survives, right? My mom was so stressed when she heard I was doing a horror, she was like, ‘Are you gonna die? Tell me if you die, Amelia! I can’t watch you die,” she laughed as reassured her mother subtly that she wouldn’t have to watch her die. “Beyond words, was my reaction to finding out that I was the narrator, and that I got to glow up and look like Carla.”
By the end of the series, Jamie’s ending is bittersweet. She’s happy having to live and remember Dani’s love and look back on the good, but she is still haunted and grieves the loss of the love of her life. When she and Dani find out from Owen nearly a decade after the events of the haunting that Flora and Miles don’t have any of the memories of what happened at Bly, Eve describes it as a “sore point.” She added, “I think there’s a moment of slight bitterness, because me and Dani are so weighted down by everything that happened and that has consumed our lives. As much as Jamie would rather it hadn’t, it does.”
“I see it as good intention,” Eve reaffirmed when asked if there was an ill intention in recalling the story again. “And I think there’s an element of wanting them to know and to understand, but without it tarnishing their day or affecting them too much,” she continued, referring to Jamie’s decision to tell the story of Bly Manor at Flora’s wedding.
“Wanting them to have the lessons that were learned as a result of what happened without having to go through it again and to feel that pain again. I think by turning it into this fiction instead and dropping it in gently, they’re able to still learn the lessons that were learned through this real struggle that they experienced without bombing these kids out and like sending them on a downward spiral and them turning into the Hill House kids,” she added with a laugh.
The Haunting of Bly Manor is streaming now on Netflix.