The Thirteenth Tale
Distributed by: BBC Two
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
At G-POP.net, we receive quite a few soundtracks for review; more soundtracks, in fact, than we do movies, books or regular music from bands. A friend once asked why we review so many soundtracks, or more pointedly, why we review so many scores (check out Soundtrack or Score?). The abundance of soundtracks sent is one reason. The other is that quite a few of the scores we have received have actually inspired me to see many a good film that I may not have ordinarily checked out like The Life Before Her Eyes, Atonement, The Awakening and now, The Thirteenth Tale.
Billed as a ghost story and based on a novel by Diane Setterfield, The Thirteenth Tale stars Vanessa Redgrave as celebrated, yet mysterious, author Vida Winter. Dying from pancreatic cancer, Vida wants to tell one final story - her own. She invites biographer Margaret Lea (Olivia Colman) to her home to write her story. Margaret is at once skeptical. After all, Vida has not been very forthcoming about her past with interviewers. Vida assures her that this time she will be telling the truth. It's time to put the ghosts of the past to rest, so to speak...or does she mean literally?
Vida begins by discussing the story of twin sisters Adeline (Vida's birth name) and Emmeline March and their time growing up in Angelfield, her family home that was destroyed by a fire when she was just seventeen. As the tale of the children unfolds, Margaret finds the ghosts of her own past coming back to haunt her. You see, she, too was a twin and has a secret or two of her own hiding beneath the surface. Perhaps this is why Vida chose Margaret to write her tale.
Eventually, we get to the nitty gritty of Vida's tale, but not before Margaret and the viewer wade through many a question. Was Angelfield really haunted by a ghost? A visit to the destroyed mansion does nothing to allay the suspicions. Could it be that the ghosts are just the invention of a young mind experiencing a childhood filled with psychosis, deprivation, abuse and neglect...enough horrors to make it seem as if the mansion were truly haunted? What of the attacks, though? What of the suspicious deaths? Could they have actually been the works of a vaguely seen entity...an entity described as the woman in white?
Dark and mysterious as it can be, it is often hard to remember that The Thirteenth Tale is a made-for-TV movie. Of course, if it were made for the theater, it would probably have been a lot more graphic, but I feel that this would have taken away from the actual story. The Thirteenth Tale is a true mystery and one the viewer will have trouble solving if they are not paying attention to every word spoken by Vida.
The mystery is so intense and intriguing that I was glued to the computer screen (The Thirteenth Tale 2013 - YouTube) until the very end, only coming up with the solution to the mystery within the last half hour of the 90-minute film. Vanessa Redgrave, as always, is amazing and, as narrator of the tale, a gifted storyteller. Olivia Colman is great as the seemingly wooden skeptic who eventually realizes the truth behind Vida's story and faces the painful truth of the painful guilt she's been suppressing over events in her own life.
Though not the horror tale that one might expect (no blood and guts in this film), The Thirteenth Tale has ghosts aplenty. Ghosts of the past can haunt one just as effectively as a specter that goes bump in the night...and can often be much more terrifying. The Thirteenth Tale is a captivating and dramatic film and well worth taking time out to watch.