Documentary/film review: Borley Rectory (2017), written and directed by Ashley Thorpe
‘Tis the spooky season! Borley Rectory is a place that has captured my imagination since I was a teenager, to the point where I even have some of the books this documentary mentions. Sadly I didn’t hear about this “animated documentary” being crowdfunded on Indiegogo until it was already in post-production, because I would have loved to have thrown some money at it. More Borley for the people!
Without going into too much detail – it is after all a documentary, so you get a full history if you watch it – the rectory in Borley in Essex, was built in the mid-to-late 1800s and always had a reputation for being haunted. Footsteps, apparitions, cold spots, you name it. The Reverend (Nicholas Vince) and Mrs Smith (Claire Louise Amias) get a reporter (Reece Shearsmith) to come have a look at the place. This eventually leads to renowned paranormal researcher Harry Price (Jonathan Rigby) taking an interest. When the next rector (Steve Furst) and wife Marianne (Annabel Bates) take over, the hauntings seem to escalate. Pleas for help aimed at Marianne start showing up on the walls.
If you’re new to all of this, or have only heard it in passing, then you learn pretty much all there is to know on the subject. I wasn’t expecting to learn anything new to be honest, but I did! Granted, the thing I didn’t previously know was something that wouldn’t have been talked about in the open until the past few years, so it’s not very surprising.
Narrated by Julian Sands we are treated to a mix of live action acting, computer animation, and old photographs, which I think really helps to transport you back and bring the story and location to life. It’s shot in a 1930s horror style, black and white that fades in and out with brightness and flickers a bit – basically, exactly like you’d expect from a film from that time. I didn’t find it distracting, but some people might. It also gave a really eerie mood. Borley Rectory is like a mixture of a documentary and a horror film, and I found it far spookier than I do most horror films.
Sadly, it’s only about an hour long, but fortunately it’s on Netflix UK at the time of writing. There’s also a new film called The Ghosts of Borley Rectory (with Julian Sands as the Rev. Foyster) that came out last month here in the UK (February 2022 in the US) that I only found out about now because I looked up Borley Rectory on IMDb, but will have to keep an eye out for. That the Most Haunted House in England is getting some attention warms my heart, although probably not so much the residents of Borley itself.
While the rectory itself is long gone, the memory of it lives on, and this is an excellent – and educational – tribute.
5 out of 5 ghostly nuns.