So, over the weekend I finished watching Chapelwaite.
What a terrific series this is!
When I started watching, I must admit I wasn’t compelled to continue watching past episode one. The story it’s based on (“Jerusalem’s Lot,” the only original story written for Stephen King’s collection Night Shift) was never one of my favorites, and I remembered it primarily as an epistolary story that never really got anywhere, if that makes sense–it really was just the letters of a man who was losing his mind, trying to get to the bottom of the weirdness going on in his inherited home, Chapelwaite, and there was something about “the worm” and so on. King described it as “Lovecraftian” in his seminal work on horror, Danse Macabre; and I had never gotten into Lovecraft, so I always figured I was missing something in the story because of that, and never revisited it. The first episode moved kind of slowly, as first episodes are often wont to do, and it did inspire me to reread the story–which I liked a lot more on a reread. But the episode started too slowly for Paul, and so we abandoned the show. A friend recommended it highly–“stick with it, it really picks up” so during my condom packing duties last week I started again with episode 2.
Very glad I did; and I really need to remember the truism that one should always give a show at least two episodes before abandoning it–unless that first episode is really and truly terrible (I’m looking at you, I Know What You Did Last Summer). Chapelwaite’s first episode was not terrible; but it was a very slow burn to set up the story. One thing I did greatly appreciate with how this show was done and cast was how the main character, Charles Boone (played perfectly by Adrien Brody), was more fleshed out and developed than he was in the short story. In the story, no mention was made of any spouse or children for him; his only family was the cousins who lived at Chapelwaite. The show gave him a Pacific Islander wife–who was already dead when the show opened, and three children, Honor, Loa, and Tane. In the show Boone was a whaler who lived at sea with his wife and children; the much-loved wife died of tuberculosis, and the younger daughter has rickets, so one of her legs is in a brace. The children are quickly seen as outsiders because of their mixed race heritage in the small town of Preacher’s Corners, the nearest town to the house; it isn’t just the mixed race children that are the source of the animus of the townspeople toward the Boone family. The Boones are blamed for a mysterious “illness” that infects and gradually kills the villagers; no one really knows what causes the illness or how to combat it effectively.
Charles is soon having weird visions, and hearing rats–or something–scratching within the walls of the house. An exterminator finds nothing in the walls, no signs of rats or mice or anything, which makes Charles think he might be going insane. He also engages Rebecca–who is not your run-of-the-mill nineteenth century young woman in small village in Maine. Rebecca has ambitions and desires of her own–to escape Preacher’s Corners, to become a writer, and she has been educated; so she comes to Chapelwaite to tutor the children and get them up to speed. Of course, the other children at the school are horrific to the Boone children, just as most of the adults are horrible to Charles. (Rebecca is played perfectly by Emily Hampshire, better known as Stevie on Schitt’s Creek, and the range she has is clear in this role; which is as far from Stevie as she could possibly get.)
But once the show starts rolling–as Charles and Rebecca and the children begin to find out what is really going on at Chapelwaite, and in the nearby abandoned town of Jerusalem’s Lot–it just keeps picking up speed. It is also truly Gothic in tone and feel; beautifully filmed and shot and the cast is perfect in their roles.
Highly recommended; one of the best King adaptations I’ve seen.