Whether or not its Tuscan mansion is haunted by concert pianist Malvina Revi (Caterina Murino), Voice From the Stone is overshadowed by the spectres of Henry James and Alfred Hitchcock. Verena (Emilia Clarke), a drably sincere nurse, arrives to look after young Jakob (Edward George Dring), who hasn’t spoken since the death of his mother eight months ago. Klaus (Marton Csokas), Jakob’s father, is a sculptor who has laid down his chisel – having started a reclining nude of his wife – in grief, and exudes the sort of broody male hauteur heroines of gothic romances find so appealing. Also in residence at the castle-like home, which is in attractive yet ominous mist-shrouded grounds, are an old retainer (Remo Girone) and Malvina’s mother Lilia (Lisa Gastoni, a ‘60s starlet in the likes of Hammer’s Visa to Canton, the Four Just Men TV series, Wild Wild Planet, RoGoPaG, Gidget Goes to Rome and Messalina Against the Son of Hercules).
Jakob won’t speak, and takes a while even to acknowledge Verena’s presence, and Klaus is almost proud of his son’s ability to scare off nurses who think they can get through to him – but Lilia helpfully delivers exposition, as the only character willing to talk much. It seems the boy was told by his mother on her death bed to listen out for her in the stone of her tomb or the walls of the house – though we heard her promise him a woman would come to love him, too – and Jakob has spent as much time as he can with his ear pressed to cold damp stone in a way no English governess would put up with. Eventually, through tact and understanding, Verena does open a line of communication with the boy … and, after a Rebecca-ish bit whereby she puts on one of Malvina’s dresses when her own gets torn climbing to the dead woman’s childhood tree-perch and angers but arouses Klaus, she even gets the sculptor to warm up to her, and is asked to become his new model. Slowly, the heroine falls as much under the dead woman’s spell as everyone else in the house, but to what end?
Until the date ‘1954’ shows up on Malvina’s tombstone, I had a notion that this was set circa 1910, to fit in with the classic ghost story feel – motor vehicles, telephones (white or otherwise) and post-war hemlines are rigorously avoided. The sole modern touch comes in that floral frock which initiates major plot developments, but it’s still odd to think that this is supposed to be set at the same time as, say, Roman Holiday or The Barefoot Contessa. The out-of-time feel of the estate (with chunks of ancient sculpture strewn about like monoliths) and its debatable ghosts is marvellously evoked, and it looks gorgeous throughout, with a dowdied-down Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones, Triassic Attack) much more interesting here than in her mainstream stardom bid Terminator Genesis.
Scripted by Andrew Shaw from an Italian novel (La Voce della Pietra) by Silvio Raffio and directed by Eric D. Howell, this works as an atmosphere piece and is even quite seductive, but it lacks a crucial ingredient that James or Hitchock would never have neglected – suspense. There really ought to be a sense of threat in the heroine’s situation, but the film goes out of its way to make the kid troubled rather than creepy, the widower attractive rather than sinister and even the possible ghost isn’t quite up to the melodrama business of possessing her successor (though that is hinted at). Quite a few scenes take place in high, dangerous places – that tree-perch, the battlements of a tower – but there never seems much danger of anyone falling: the worst that might happen is a torn skirt. It’s an absorbing piece, but perhaps a little too respectable and reticent for its own good.