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The Canterville Ghost, by Oscar Wilde, and the recent TV adaptation

The Canterville Ghost is a short story by Oscar Wilde written in 1887 but the style, content and commentary is surprisingly modern. This Christmas it was re-interpreted into a 4 hour (2×2 hour episodes, including adverts) version starring Caroline Catz, James Lance and the wonderful Antony Head as the Ghost. It has been at least 20 years since I Iast read the book so I thought I would re-read it and compare with the televised version.

The Canterville Ghost book cover

The novella is less than a hundred pages and will probably take under an hour to read. An American family purchase the Canterville estate, ghost and all. Sir Simon killed his wife and was left to starve to death by her brothers. He is unrepentant and has enjoyed haunting ever since, using different personas to create mayhem. Simon meets his match in the American family who frustrate his every attempt to spook them. He finally finds eternal rest thanks to the daughter of the family, however the details are a little sketchy.
The style of writing is humorous and there are wry remarks about American politics of the time. I was surprised at how modern the writing seemed despite being 136 years old! Despite featuring a ghost, the book is not very spooky. I think the novella would make a fun introduction to classics for teens (along with Dickens’ A Christmas Carol)

The Canterville Ghost cast photo

The 2022 TV version fleshes out the story considerably. The ghost has been cursed by the family of his handfasted gypsy wife who he abandoned due to pressure from his parents to marry appropriately.
The humour is still evident but less political. There are extra characters to bulk out the detail and provide the past and present with an increased range of personalities, emotion and plot. I felt that this led to a more thorough examination of the characters’ motives and actions and made them seem more realistic.
I have to confess that I love Antony Head (or Anthony Stewart Head as he will always be to us Buffy afficionados!) His portrayal of Sir Simon’s despair at being thwarted in his attempt to spook alongside his friendship with a rat and his hope of redemption, give his character depth.
Both versions play on the power of love to defeat death as well as the machinations of class and society. I think the televised version will appeal more to modern audiences who want a greater depth of understanding of the characters.

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