TV REVIEWS : ‘Ghosts’ Resonates With Torment


Ibsen’s spare and austere “Ghosts” leaps from its Victorian time period with a fierce, unrelenting directness on Bravo’s “BBC Showcase” tonight at 6 and again at 11.

British stage actress Judi Dench and Kenneth Branagh (Oscar nominee for “Henry V”) enact the tormented Mrs. Alving and her febrile, syphilitic son Oswald with passions that allow us to see these characters clear to the bone.

“Ghosts,” which is a sequel of sorts to Ibsen’s “The Doll’s House,” burst like a storm on European theater at the turn of the century, and this production captures the timeless, withering drama about a marriage rooted in a lie.


Dench’s attractive but severe demeanor is the mirror of repressed rebellion against petty convention, duty, obsolete beliefs and dead ideas. Those are Ibsen’s ghosts.

As Dench moves through her cold, charcoal-gray estate with the musty bookshelves, the dramatic exposition tightens. “There is in me something ghost-like, and I can’t free it,” she tells the stuffy pastor Manders (an earnestly foolish Michael Gambon).

Branagh’s increasingly delirious figure of a son, suffering for the sins of his dissolute, dead father, is as fiery as his spiky red hair. The play’s two other characters, a maid and her manipulative father (Natasha Richardson and Freddie Jones), are crucial to this rain-swept drama. In many ways, Ibsen’s exorcism anticipates the lingering family poison of characters in Eugene O'Neill and William Faulkner.

Directed by Elijah Moshinsky, the production compels you to listen, to drink in the unraveling of the incestuous horror, the small-town hypocrisy and the ghosts. The experience is not easy viewing for the sound-bite crowd, but it is alive, never ponderous, never solemn.