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Oct 28, 2021
| by | Kate O'Hare

'The Canterville Ghost': BYUtv Brings Wilde Tale to Life With the BBC

In 1887, The Court and Society Review magazine published Irish writer Oscar Wilde's novella The Canterville Ghost. Now, the humorously spooky tale comes to life in a new adaptation on BYUtv, starting on Sunday, Oct. 31 at 9 p.m ET/6 pm. PT.

Wilde is best known for his witty epigrams, comedy plays and novel The Picture of Dorian Gray -- and for his libertine lifestyle. But, Wilde could also turn out charming, family-friendly stories like The Canterville Ghost.

The new version, a four-part limited series, is a partnership between BYUtv -- owned and operated by Brigham Young University, itself sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints  -- and BBC Studios.

Airing over four Sundays, the adaptation expands the narrative and updates the story to the present day, while retaining the essence of the original (which you can read here), in which a very modern American family named Otis buys a great house in the English countryside.

There they encounter both their British neighbors, several of them quite snooty, and, closer to home, the unhappy ghost of Sir Simon de Canterville, one of the house's former inhabitants.

He's unhappy because, despite his best efforts at ghosting, the Otis family members refuse to be frightened and instead put their smarts to solving the house's mysteries.

The writer is Jude Tindall, who has written for the current Father Brown mystery series, inspired by G.K. Chesterton's character, and creator of that show's new spin-off for BritBox, The Sister Boniface Mysteries.

The Canterville Ghost also stars two regulars from AppleTV+'s hit Ted Lasso: James Lance, as the American patriarch, Hiram Otis; and Anthony Head, as Sir Simon.

It's quite a production coup for the non-commercial BYUtv network, which is working to establish itself as an ad-free home for family-friendly entertainment.

Andra Johnson Duke, head of content at BYUtv and executive producer of The Canterville Ghost, recalls how the partnership came about.

Having formerly worked for BBC Worldwide Productions, she says, "I was really familiar with the company."

She continues, "There are these just incredible themes of family and forgiveness, hope, redemption, all these things we love.

"We love digging into those really purposeful themes. It has just been such a tremendous collaboration with them."

But, turning a Victorian-era novella into a modern miniseries required rethinking the story and the setting a bit.

"At the time," recalls Duke, "we really weren't looking to do a lot of period stuff. We liked this idea of showing contemporary families wrestling with the things that families today are wrestling with.

"So, I'm looking at this when, I remember the conversation going back to them and saying, 'What if we made it a modern adaptation?'"

The result eliminates the original oldest Otis son and ups the ages of the Otis daughter and younger twin sons, allowing them to have stories independent of their loving parents.

"You have some natural dynamics in there," says Duke, "but we really wanted to make sure that the family came across as connected, that it's clear that they love each other.

"Even though they've got their stuff, their things, they're a family that cares about each other."

Duke says that BYUtv is also interested in producing shows that families can watch together.

"Co-viewing is really a huge thing for us," she says, "and then looking for that [project that's] entertaining, inspiring, uplifting, improving families and communities -- that's really at the core of our mission.

"We're always looking for what I call vitamin water. What are those really foundational principles that we need? We need that civility; we need that love; we need that service, and you just see it.

"It's amazing to me, even the teen and tween programming, a lot of it might be clean, but it's not uplifting."

Aside from coverage of the LDS Church's conventions and a Sunday-morning devotional block, BYUtv's programming is usually not explicitly faith-based.

But, the channel has been airing The Chosen, the hit dramatic series inspired by the Gospels.

"The Chosen has been such a beautiful show for our viewers," says Duke, "that we're looking at, what other opportunities are out there?

"We see this dearth of, that idea of looking up, that idea of even an acknowledgement that there's a God, and that faith motivates our actions, that it's the core of so many people.

"While we've been focused in this, yes, purposeful space and good, strong values, we're also really looking now at leaning in even further on what faith looks like and means to people, how it drives their lives.

"Not that it even necessarily makes it a religious show, even though we are taking religious pitches. But, just that idea that there are many people of faith, and it motivates their actions and touches their lives."

BYUtv can be watched on cable systems, through its streaming app and online at BYUtv.org.

 

Image: BYUtv

Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Manager at Family Theater Productions.

Keep up with Family Theater Productions on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

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