Lady Sybil, Supernatural 1977 (Ep5)

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Lady Sybil successfully manages to blur the line between the supernatural and the psychological, writes RICHARD MARKWORTH

Lady Sybil, Supernatural 1977 (Ep5)

TITLE: Lady Sybil
DIRECTOR: Simon Langton

Review of Lady Sybil

Lady Sybil, episode 5 of Supernatural, is a turgid tale of hauntings, familial dysfunction, and Freudian psychobabble.

Lady Sybil Manners (Cathleen Nesbitt) is an elderly matriarch, convinced she is being stalked at night by an unseen party whom she believes aims to murder her. A stalker who lurks outside her bedroom door and  leaves a trail of wet, slimy footprints originating from the stream in which her late husband drowned.

Sybil resides with her two adult sons, conservative doctor Geoffrey (Denholm Elliott), who runs his practice from the family home, and failing composer Edward (John Osborne) who seeks to compensate for his frustrating lack of inspiration, and sooth the troubling prospect of his upcoming divorce, by indulging in a dissolute lifestyle. Their uncomfortable co-existence is further aggravated by the fact Sybil’s sons consistently dismiss her claims of a nighttime prowler on the premises. 

The presence of attractive young housemaid Arabella (Cheryl Murray) adds further tension to the simmering emotions of the household with the lustful Edward feeling perfectly entitled to fondle her while she serves them their meals and the chaste Geoffrey actively seeking to discourage his sibling from his lecherous behaviour towards the girl, preferring his brother look outside the house if he wants “something like that ”.

Geoffrey’s studies of the unconscious mind and his fascination with the transformative qualities of his pet chameleon have led him to the somewhat tenuous conclusion there exists two distinct personalities within each man. He seeks to treat the emotionally tortured Edward by convincing him he must reconcile with his inner self to find peace and extolls him to “do as you will” to become free.

Geoffrey suggests Edward’s creativity has been stifled by Sybil which lends a sinister manipulative edge to their conversations. This is amplified when he declares to Edward, he believes Sybil is suffering from guilt as she knows she is responsible for their father’s death, causing her to imagine the existence of the prowler and, on a subconscious level, harbour a yearning to be assaulted.

As well as attending to his brother, Geoffrey also examines his mother following another of her bouts of nocturnal panic and continues to contradict her assertion there is an intruder in the house. 

Lady Sybil, Supernatural 1977 (Ep5) scene
Scene from Lady Sybil, Supernatural 1977.

However, despite this proclamation, a mysterious figure bedecked in opera cloak and top hat does indeed haunt the grounds. Is it really the hostile phantom of Sybil’s husband, with murderous designs on her or does it have some connection to the brothers’ own inner demons? As historical family secrets and old resentments bubble to the surface, the terrible truth is revealed.

Lady Sybil is a Victorian potboiler of a tale heavily influenced by The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

The combination of dubious science, ghostly assailant and supressed rancour forms a rich Gothic stew. In keeping with the remainder of the series, there is an implicit sexual tension running through the story with Arabella embodying the forbidden desires lurking within the superficially respectable Manners’ homestead.

The metaphorical pot does threaten to boil over into melodrama in the closing stages of the production but, overall, the story is both well plotted and acted with Elliott eminently watchable as the outwardly proper, but quietly bitter, Geoffrey.

Lady Sybil successfully manages to blur the line between the supernatural and the psychological with the identity of the perpetrator remaining undisclosed until the story’s spirited denouement.  

This episode is highly recommended for fans of mystery horror and proves one of the strongest entries in the series.

Tell us your thoughts on Lady Sybil, Supernatural 1977 Episode 5, in the comment section below!

Read Richard Markworth’s reviews of Supernatural 1977 episodes on Spooky Isles.

Read our Supernatural 1977 Episode Guide with reviews of all the episodes!


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here