The Thirteenth Tale

Radio Times
Review by:
Alison Graham

Anyone who’s read Diane Setterfield’s subtle, unsettling gothic story of loss, grief, destructive jealousy and the peculiar dynamic of twins probably thinks it’s unfilmable. But writer Christopher Hampton’s clever, eerie screenplay and two mesmerising performances, from Vanessa Redgrave and Olivia Colman, make this a tour de force.

The Thirteenth Tale won’t be to everyone’s taste – there’s a slow build-up and it’s a tense, unhappy story – but it is sinuous and will wrap you in a prickly embrace as ghostly laughter rings through a huge, unhappy home. Colman is Margaret, a writer summoned by the imperious, dying author Vida Winter (Redgrave) to pen her biography. But there’s a terrible urgency about Vida’s need to tell her story, and she unearths childhood ghosts and horrors in front of an increasingly appalled Margaret. It’s the kind of television drama that will hang around you like a cloak, long after it ends.

About this programme

Biographer Margaret Lea (Olivia Colman) is summoned to the home of reclusive and terminally ill novelist Vida Winter (Vanessa Redgrave) to document the author's life. Vida reveals the secrets of her dark and unsettling childhood at ancestral home Angelfield, forcing Margaret to face up to the tragedy she herself suffered as a young girl. Psychological mystery adapted by Oscar-winning screenwriter Christopher Hampton from the novel by Diane Setterfield, with Robert Pugh, Tom Goodman-Hill, Steven Mackintosh and Alexandra Roach.

Cast and crew


Vida Winter
Vanessa Redgrave
Margaret Lea
Olivia Colman
Hester Barrow
Alexandra Roach
John the Dig
Robert Pugh
Dr Clifton
Steven Mackintosh
Dr Mawsley
Tom Goodman-Hill
Young Adeline/Vida
Sophie Turner
Young Emmeline
Antonia Clarke
Charlie Angelfield
Michael Jibson
Isabelle March
Emily Beecham
The Missus
Janet Amsden
Ambrose Proctor
Adam Long
Emmeline/Adeline age 9
Madeleine Power
Theodora Mawsley
Lizzie Hopley
Jacqueline Davis
Mr Peter Lomax
Martin Wimbush
Aurelius Love
Gordon Winter
Young Margaret
Isabel Barlow
Alice Barlow


James Kent
David Heyman
Norma Heyman
Christopher Hampton