WHILE it is par for the course in a ghost story to see characters begin to doubt their own judgment and recollection, one does not expect to undergo the same sort of “gaslighting” (from the Ingrid Bergman psychological thriller of 1944) as a viewer.

That is what you might feel, however, watching Lenny Abrahamson’s engaging but uneven adaptation of a novel by Sarah Waters. Set in Warwickshire not long after after the Second World War has ended, The Little Stranger begins with the village doctor, Faraday (Domhnall Gleeson) calling in at a stately home, Hundreds Hall, where a maid has been taken ill.

The place is much changed since Faraday, then a self-dubbed “common village boy”, went there for a fete. Then, the house was thriving, the family happy, but now the hall is crumbling and the only occupants save the maid are a troubled veteran (Will Poulter), his sister Caroline (Ruth Wilson), and their fragile mother (Charlotte Rampling). Neither home nor family have recovered since the loss of a child, Susan, before Caroline was born.

It turns out that there is nothing physically wrong with the maid, but she feels there is something not quite right about the place and wants to leave.

Great stuff, one thinks, metaphorically snuggling in for a good old fashioned ghost story. Let goosebumps be raised. Yet they are not, or not immediately anyway. What we are treated to instead is a beautifully acted study of grief and the corrosive effects of the British class system.

The latter is in evidence when Caroline invites the doctor to dinner. Seeing the medic present, an alarmed guest says he hopes no one in the house has been taken ill. On being told that Faraday is there to dine, there is a harrumphed, “Ah, one of us.” Except the good doctor is a long way from being that, and he feels it intensely.

He does look the upper class part, though, and sounds it as well. All the main characters go to town on their received pronunciation, so much so that one half expects Caroline’s black Lab, were he to suddenly acquire speech, would sound like Prince Charles.

As time ticks on there are references to the house’s “strange acoustics”. Rod complains of feeling troubled and the odd incident occurs. By and large, though, it begins to seem like the ghost story has been forgotten about. It is as if Abrahamson, Oscar-nominated for Room, the story of an abducted single mother and her child kept in a confined space, has been given wider to roam and somehow lost his way.

The subtle, brooding style is very Sarah Waters and works wonderfully on the page. The same approach on screen, however, makes for a lopsided film in which everything eventually happens, but in an unseemly rush. It is as if a short film has been tacked on to a feature, or a long postscript to a novel. The story still works, but you do need patience to stick with it.

Fortunately that is no chore given the cast involved. Gleeson, seen recently in Goodbye Christopher Robin, is getting maximum use out of that cut glass English accent, but it is maybe time to give it a rest. Rampling is wonderful as the mother who has never recovered from the loss of her child and who is clinging on to the hope they will be reunited one day. Poulter is too young to make a convincing Rod.

Best of all is Ruth Wilson as the capable Caroline. In another time, she would take over the estate, but these are days when women are regarded as weaklings, or not to be trusted. As an old fogey colleague tells Faraday when the bumps in the night become too obvious to ignore, “It is generally women at the heart of this stuff.”

Best known for TV’s Luther, Wilson does not get nearly enough work on the big screen, an omission that will hopefully be rectified after this. Don’t be a stranger now, Ms Wilson.