At the time of it’s airing it was labelled as ‘British Buffy’, while there are some basic similarities it’s a very different show. It’s slower paced, relies more on dialogue and atmosphere than action and has tighter storytelling than Buffy’s monster-of-the-week formula.
Set in a remote English boarding school, Medenham Hall, formerly a manor house owned by the McBain estate. In the 18th Century the manor was a site for witchcraft and sacrifices until the Medenham witches were tried and executed.
The first season focuses on Cassie, a shy student desperate to be popular, who discovers a vase used in the voodoo rituals. The vase unlocks Cassie’s telekinetic abilities and, with her best friend Thelma, she discovers she has a connection to the Medenham witches. Cassie then finds herself being stalked by a mysterious man, who reveals himself as Azazeal, the leader of the fallen angels and requires Cassie for a specific purpose.
The second season brings in a new protagonist to help Cassie and Thelma in their conflict against Azazeal – Ella Dee, a 500-year-old witch (who still looks like a teenager) with a long quarrel with Azazeal. While the first season was more about the mystery and drama, the second season is more action-based with more demons and higher stakes.
Cassie as a protagonist mostly served as audience surrogate, most of her contributions to the plot are things that happen to her and not what she does. Christina Cole does keep the character from being bland and is easy to like, so you can sympathise with her.
However, they made the right decision to bring in Ella who is much more proactive as a protagonist, being a more advanced witch than Cassie, she gets involved in the action much more and is a far more complex character. She also has far more personality than Cassie, has better dialogue and is more fun to follow. Laura Piper gets to take Ella through several different conflicts, from her missions to her personal life and plays them all extremely well.
Jemima Rooper though, as Thelma, is the real star of the show, starting as Cassie’s roommate and only friend who is sacrificed by Azazeal and remains a ghost for the entirety of the show. She has all the best lines, the most bizarre outfits, gets up to all sorts of antics as a ghost that are hilarious, and is completely unashamed to be a horny lesbian. But she also has some grey morals and makes complex decisions, so she isn’t just used as the comic relief.
Azazeal is a cool villain, played by then newcomer Michael Fassbender, who oddly looks exactly the same in this as he does today. He’s very mysterious, calm, seductive, spends a lot of time in the dark watching the school while smoking and can still be intimidating.
Supporting characters Leon and Roxanne start off as one-dimensional bullies in the first season, but thanks to great performances from Jamie Davis and Amber Sainsbury get more to do in the second season. Leon in particular gets the most development of all the characters, from an imbecile jerk to a likeable and brave member of the team. Roxanne on the other hand becomes an even more vile queen-bee and an unknowing ally in the villain’s plot, before taking a surprising new direction towards the end of the show.
Medenham Hall is a brilliant setting for the show and practically a character itself; it’s beautiful and gothic. It is in fact Englefield House, also used in films such as The King’s Speech, Great Expectations (2012) and even X-Men: First Class, which of course also starred Michael Fassbender.
The designs of the fallen angels are pretty scary and very gargoyle-like. We don’t see much of them obviously, as they’re limited by the special effects budget, but when they’re shown they are used effectively.
As mentioned the show relies more on atmosphere than action, but when action happens it’s pretty impressive. There are plenty of scenes of torture and violence that even Buffy wouldn’t have dared to go that far.
The music adds a lot to the atmosphere, helps add suspense to dark scenes but also add excitement to lighter scenes. The opening titles are very stylish, highly detailed and played effectively with #1 Crush by Garbage.
The show was sadly cancelled after it’s two-season run, however there’s no need to be put off by that. Even though the finale is a bit open-ended, it does mark an end of an era so you will get some satisfaction watching it knowing there is no third season.
It’s an enjoyably stylish horror show, which deserves to be looked at again and not be forgotten.
Written by Jack Parish