It’s the most common of horror tropes to flirt with the “true story,” and Netflix’s The Haunting of Bly Manor pulls out every storytelling trick (short of found footage filmmaking) to make you believe what you saw at Bly could have been a thing—or at least a rumor.
The story itself draws from the literature of Henry James and, in particular, his story The Turn of the Screw, about a governess looking after a couple of kids on a haunted piece of English countryside. Like the novella, the series opens with a frame–a character not immediately involved in the action narrating the action to an audience. It’s the same strategy as Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow; it evokes an oral tradition which feels, if not historical, at least possibly historical.
The Haunting of Bly Manor also incorporates real historical events such as the bubonic plague. Its choice to use black and white for these moments reinforces this attempt at historicity. (Even though the problem of capturing events in the nineteenth century had less to do with the lack of color film than, well, you know, no film or cameras. Still, black and white makes us think “past.”)
Aside from the ghost stories, Netflix also seems to have filmed inside a real manor, helping the story’s verisimilitude. Or did they?
Is Bly Manor real?
While the establishing shots of the manor are in fact real (we’re not sure exactly where the country estate they show exists), set designer Patricio Farrell actually built most of the rooms far from England. While the setting of Bly Manor is the English countryside, the filming took place in Vancouver, Canada—which, if shown accurately, is a little too pretty for a horror movie. The house itself was spread across five separate stages—where the interior scenes take place.
Because the series takes place in the 1980s, Farrell had to not only copy English manors, but also outfit them with the correct “modern” appliances like phones and lamps.
So while Bly Manor makes use of all kinds of narrative and filmmaking tricks to create historical realism, nothing beats good old practical effects. And a lot of nails.
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