The Haunting Of Bly Manor: is the Netflix horror series based on a true story?

Posted by for TV

The Haunting Of Bly Manor – available to stream on Netflix from 9 October – is guaranteed to send shivers down your spine. With that in mind, then, it’s time to take a closer look at the inspiration for the must-watch horror series. 

Warning: This article contains light spoilers for Netflix’s The Haunting Of Bly Manor.

The Haunting Of Bly Manor, aka Netflix’s next chapter in the smash-hit The Haunting Of… anthology series, has gone down an absolute treat with critics. Indeed, the TV show boasts a 93% ‘fresh’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with many praising the horror for its effortless ability to create a sense of dread and foreboding.

This time around, the focus is firmly on Dani (Victoria Pedretti, who played Nell in The Haunting Of Hill House), a young American nanny who’s been hired to look after two orphaned children – Flora (Amelie Bea Smith) and Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth). 

On paper, this sounds an easy enough task. Or, at least, it does until you consider the fact that Dani’s predecessor, Rebecca (Tahirah Sharif), ended her stint as the children’s nanny in tragic circumstances. That Dani’s employer, Henry (Henry Thomas), point-blank refuses to set foot in Bly Manor if he can help it. That the aforementioned manor is seemingly plagued by events of a supernatural nature. That the housekeeper, Hannah (T’Nia Miller), frequently needs to be shaken back into reality.

That, above all else, Dani’s two young charges are creepy as fuck.

The Haunting Of Bly Manor: Benjamin Evan Ainsworth as Miles
The Haunting Of Bly Manor: Benjamin Evan Ainsworth as Miles

So, is Netflix’s The Haunting Of Bly Manor based upon a true story?

For all those hoping that the series, set in the 1980s, is based upon a true story, we have bad news: The Haunting Of Bly Manor is actually heavily inspired by Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw.

“We’re looking at all the ghost stories of Henry James as the jumping-off point for the season, so it very much is a whole new deal,” showrunner Mike Flanagan tells Birth Movies Death.

“It’s a cool way to expand on some of the things I loved about season one, but within the framework of a new story, without having to be restrained by the decisions we made last time.”

That being said, though, it’s worth noting that James’ gothic novella wasn’t merely the result of an overactive imagination. 

That’s right: The Turn Of The Screw was born from a conversation James had with the Archbishop of Canterbury one dark evening by the fireside. A conversation which, we hasten to add, he allowed to ferment in his mind for more than two-and-a-half years before turning it into his frightening tale.

As per The Guardian, James wrote in his notebook: “Note here the ghost story told me at Addington (evening of Thursday 10th), by the Archbishop of Canterbury … the story of the young children… left to the care of servants in an old country house through the death, presumably, of parents.

“The servants, wicked and depraved, corrupt and deprave the children… The servants die (the story vague about the way of it) and their apparitions, figures return to haunt the house and children, to whom they seem to beckon…

“It is all obscure and imperfect, the picture, the story, but there is a suggestion of strangely gruesome effect in it. The story to be told… by an outside spectator, observer.”

The Haunting Of Bly Manor: Victoria Pedretti as Dani Clayton
The Haunting Of Bly Manor: Victoria Pedretti as Dani Clayton

What happens in The Turn Of The Screw?

An unnamed governess is hired to care for two orphaned children: a boy, Miles, who has been expelled from school, and his younger sister, Flora.

At first, she is charmed by the children. However, she soon comes to suspect that they are aware of, perhaps even being influenced by, a sinister supernatural presence within Bly Manor’s grounds. So far, so spooky.

James’ portrayal of the governess as an “unreliable narrator”, though, soon throws her assertions into doubt. Are the ghosts real, inventions, or the hallucinations of madness? Is she insightful, paranoid, or insane?

And, perhaps most importantly, does she have the best interests of her young children at heart? Are her feelings towards them truly as pure as she insists? Or is she, as some readers have suggested, violently homicidal?

Whichever way you choose to interpret the text, it’s worth noting the ending still comes as a cold sucker-punch to the gut. 

No spoilers here but… yeah, it’s a shocker.

How similar is The Haunting Of Bly Manor to The Turn Of The Screw?

There are, of course, some key differences between James’ slim novella and the Netflix series – not least of all the fact that The Haunting Of Bly Manor is set a century after The Turn Of The Screw.

And, with the unnamed governess now a fully realised character, there’s far more opportunity to explore Dani’s backstory, too. Plus, there’s the fact that the ghosts – and the children’s connection with them – seem 100% confirmed by the trailer alone, too.

Explaining that his series aims to reimagine the most terrifying aspects of James’ work and present them to an entirely new audience, Flanagan insists: “For Henry James fans, it’s going to be pretty wild, and for people who aren’t familiar with his work, it’s going to be unbelievably scary.

“I already think it’s much scarier than season one, so I’m very excited about it.”

Consider us intrigued.

Sign up for the latest news and must-read features from Stylist, so you don't miss out on the conversation.

By entering my email I agree to Stylist’s Privacy Policy

Images: Netflix

Share this article

Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.

Recommended by Kayleigh Dray