I first came across this film as a trailer shown when I went to see Contagion several weeks ago; for some reason (probably to do with a large stack of not-properly-read Empire magazines on my study floor) it had totally slipped under my radar, but I’m so glad I spotted it as The Awakening is a really creepy British ghost story set in the period just after the First World War.

Florence Cathcart has lost her fiance in the war and feels guilt over how they parted. The need for the grieving to make sense of what has happened to them and their huge sense of loss has led many to seek solace in spiritualism, and of course to be taken advantage of by charlatans. Florence has set herself up as a debunker of such hoaxes. She is persuaded to take on the case of the sighting of a small boy at a boarding school in the north, which appears to have led to the death of a young pupil. And that’s probably as much as can be said about the plot without straying into spoiler territory.

There are some really fundamental themes here: loss, loneliness, survivor guilt, repressed memories, the position of women in the inter-war period and the need to make sense of things which seem to have no rational explanation. Florence herself is fascinating – I couldn’t quite decide if her quest to expose spiritualism as a fraud was as much about hoping to be proved wrong as it was about protecting people from the unscrupulous.

It is, to me at least, a wonderfully atmospheric and quite ambiguous film. I had a very interesting exchange with Silvery Dude last week; he had seen this before me and urged me to go along. When we discussed the film a week or so later we discovered an almost diametrically opposite view of some key scenes and the ending in particular, all of which makes me want to see it again just to test my theory (and not at all to prove him wrong, that would be childish *coughs*)

What I can say is that it is really creepy and there were a couple of scenes which really made me jump, all very satisfying. Both Rebecca Hall and Dominic West are excellent, but I really loved Imelda Staunton as the school matron/housekeeper, a wonderful key character.

This would make a good companion piece to The Others which I saw for the first time recently, possibly too much of a sense of foreboding in both to make a sensible double bill but I may give it a try next Hallowe’en.

Recommended to all lovers of the ghostly.

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