“Just in time for Halloween, The Burning Girls lights up the screen to give us a scare and warm up the cold Winter nights.”
The Burning Girls is the latest UK original drama on Paramount+. The series, based on the novel by C.J. Tudor has arrived in time for Halloween. Starring Samantha Morton and Ruby Stokes, the drama is one that the audience has to watch every second of and listen to every syllable of dialogue. To miss one tiny piece will derail the enjoyment of the series. One insignificant detail you discard could turn out to be the vital clue to unravelling the mystery. Does it contain scares? It certainly does. Is there disturbing imagery involved? Of course, there are. Is it a worthy adaptation of the novel or should it be left to burn itself out like an unwanted bonfire?
Set in Chapel Croft, a village haunted by a dark and turbulent history. The series sees Reverand Jack Brooks (Samantha Morton) and her daughter Flo (Ruby Stokes) arrive in the hope of a fresh start. They soon find a village rife with conspiracies and secrets. Where uncovering the truth can be deadly in a community with a bloody past.
Jack is a single parent haunted by a tragedy from her previous church. One who bears the onus of her husband’s death. While her 15-year-old daughter Flo is a teenager who marches to the beat of her own drum.
The series is, quite simply, superb. It may not move as fast as some people would like but it is a deliberate slow burn. The pace allows the suspense to build, to allow the material to breathe. Just like a fire, it needs oxygen to spark to life. By deliberately taking things slow, it allows us to get to grips with what we are seeing, to get us to the point of terror before unleashing a burst that takes our breath away. Take the opening sequence for example.
Two young girls are dragged from a church in the 18th century, accused of being witches and tied to a stake on top of a large pile of logs. Both are completely terrified at what is to come. We find ourselves thinking ‘ They won’t seriously do what I think they are thinking of doing. They won’t let us see two young children being burnt at the stake. They won’t do it.’ You’d be wrong.
These opening scenes are followed up by another death that takes us by surprise. From the start, the rug has been pulled from under our feet. This follow-up to what has already shocked us is interspersed with a joyful celebration outside the same church in the modern-day. This sets the scene and the premise for the arrival of a new Vicar to take over the small village’s parish. We want to scream ‘Leave! Go back home. There’s something seriously wrong here.’ It is this tension that keeps us hooked on what we see and the dread of what is to come.
Not one of the cast can be accused of not giving their best. Samantha Morton as Jack Brooks is brilliant. Jack is a flawed, damaged character, one that we can’t help to gravitate to. As she takes her new position, she immediately comes into conflict with the village’s big shot. This sequence again contains something that makes us jump and take a deep swallow. Samantha Morton makes us follow Jack’s journey, from newly installed Vicar to her investigating the mystery as it unfolds. And in doing so gives us a masterclass in acting. We feel every pain Jack feels. We want her to be safe during her journey of the series of events. And we can’t take our eyes off her whenever she is on the screen.
The same has to be said for Ruby Stokes. For someone so young, the actress has us eating from the palm of her hand. Miss Stokes is actually 23 but here, she is playing a teenager. And we believe her performance. As Flo Brooks, Jack’s daughter, we follow her on her own journey through the mystery and the horror. Again, we find ourselves digging our fingernails into the folds of our seats. Again, Flo finds herself in situations that have us breathless with anticipation at what might happen. And in one scene, we find ourselves terrified for her. That is the power of Ruby Stokes’ performance. And it is one that deserves plenty of plaudits.
The job of translating the novel to the small screen falls to Hans Rosenfeldt and Camilla Ahlgren. Both of them have done a brilliant job. The plot threads that run through the series could easily take us out of our enjoyment of the series. But the pair masterfully manage to keep it all flowing smoothly and flawlessly. We have the main story of what is actually going on within the village. But we also have the shocks of the burning girls themselves and the backstory of Jack and Flo. What happened before their arrival, and the mystery of what happened to two teenage girls who vanished from the village years before. The threads are spread equally throughout as they slowly converge into one strand. And no one is as innocent or as blameless as they seem.
Charles Martin and Kieron Hawkes confidently direct and skillfully transform the written work into a gripping supernatural series. The way they handle the story, the characters and the events is undeniably superb. Without the terrific writing of Hans Rosenfeldt and Camilla Ahlgren, the series could fall apart. The same goes for the directing here. Every shot gives rise to something more, every image tells us more than we should be allowed to know. It is masterful. Add in the way they handle the frightening aspects and you get something that you can’t take your eyes off for a single second. Blink and you might just miss something important.
Just in time for Halloween, The Burning Girls lights up the screen to give us a scare and warm up the cold Winter nights. And believe me when I say you’ll be hooked. This is the kind of series that not only showcases the talent that appears in the episodes but has enough to keep the audience on their toes. Not one of the cast allows their performances to drop. And I guarantee you’ll be begging for several of the characters to get the comeuppance before the finale. You’ll love some characters, be wary of others, and you’ll be waiting for some to meet a nasty end. The question is, will we get what we want?
There are surprises and shocks in store, not only for the characters but for the whole audience too. You won’t get a grip on the series as just when you think you’ve got it, it throws us for a loop and slips away on a wholly new tangent. One that we don’t see coming. And it is that which makes the series so good. If you’re brave enough, turn the lights off, sit in the dark and watch what is to come. If you’re not, sit back with the lights on, grip your seat and be prepared to jump as high as the ceiling. Watch a masterclass of supernatural drama. Just don’t look at a bonfire in the same way again. You may just come face to face with The Burning Girls in the Flames.
The Burning Girls is now streaming on Paramount+.
Trailer Source: Paramount Plus
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