Poor Girl was a 1974 episode of a British television series called Haunted broadcast by Granada. Each hour-long episode was a kind of short made-for-television horror film. Poor Girl, based on a story by the English novelist Elizabeth Taylor, is an excellent example of the kind of subtle horror that British television used to be so good at.
Florence Chasty (Lynne Miller) is a young governess who arrives at a large country house to take charge of the education of nine-year-old Hilary Wilson. Her parents, Oliver and Louise Wilson, warn her that Hilary can be a bit of a handful and that proves to be an understatement. He’s a nice enough lad but he’s stubborn and willful and he soon develops a rather embarrassing crush on Miss Chasty.
Miss Chasty has other problems. She starts to see things that aren’t there. She sees herself in the mirror but she looks different and is dressed differently. She also keeps seeing a young couple who aren’t there. Is she seeing ghosts? Is she seeing into the past? Or is she perhaps seeing into the future?
Judging by the way the young couple are dressed one suspects it’s the future that she’s getting glimpses of, but whose future?
It’s also fairly obvious that the master of the house, Oliver Wilson, is interested in her in a rather inappropriate way. And it’s equally obvious that Miss Chasty to some extent at least reciprocates those feelings. Oliver Wilson has apparently done this sort of thing before, judging by his wife’s reaction. His wife was already half inclined to give the young governess her marching orders, but perhaps surprisingly she doesn’t. She seems to be rather resigned to her husband’s indiscretions as long as he’s discreet about them.
Miss Chasty becomes more and more disturbed. She also develops a tendency to see Oliver Wilson when she’s looking at young Hilary, and to see Hilary when she’s looking at Oliver.
Whether anything supernatural is going on remains rather mysterious, and the screenplay by Robin Chapman is content to leave things fairly ambiguous. This is in my view one of the film’s strengths. There are no obvious ghosts or ghostly phenomena. This is more of an uncanny tale than an actual ghost story. By the end we may think we know what has been going on, but doubts linger. We are after all seeing things through the eyes of an impressionable, repressed and perhaps slightly unstable young woman. And even if we’re right, it still doesn’t really explain what has happened.
The acting is uniformly of a high standard, as you expect in 1970s British television. Lynne Miller is very good as Miss Chasty, playing her as a young woman who is basically rather meek but with obvious passions smouldering beneath the surface. Matthew Pollock is superb as young Hilary.
It’s never explicitly stated but we can certainly infer from internal evidence that the setting is the Edwardian era.
Poor Girl is visually impressive, with some wonderful locations and the kinds of lavish (by television standards) sets and costumes that one is accustomed to from British television of the 70s.
Network DVD have paired this one with another episode from the same series, the equally good The Ferryman. Picture quality is far from outstanding but it’s acceptable.
Poor Girl is a fine understated piece of subtle horror, relying effectively on suggestion and atmosphere rather than going for cheap thrills and gore. Highly recommended.