Having rather taken a knife to Doctor Who, here’s a quick palette cleanser with a more positive review of The Tractate Middoth penned by Steven Moffat’s Sherlock partner-in-crime Mark Gatiss, who also makes his directorial début with this adaptation of the MR James short story.
Gatiss is a big fan of James (he also presented a documentary on the author entitled Ghost Writer which aired immediately afterwards) and certainly knows his stuff: he keeps his adaptation pretty faithful to the original and adds little details which show his greater knowledge of James’ other works as well as the author’s life story. That’s definitely a mark in its favour considering the liberties that the 2010 version of the classic Oh Whistle and I’ll come to you, My Lad took which made it feel nothing like James.
But despite remaining faithful to the short story, Gatiss still manages to conjure up a genuine sense of disquiet and dread through focussing on many tiny little details and by the expert pacing of the scenes. The whole thing was a joy to watch and take in, even if ultimately such an old story can no longer really deliver the chills you expect from a modern ghost tale.
There were some lovely performances – John Castle, Roy Barraclough and Louise Jameson in particular with David Ryall wonderfully loathsome as Rant – but the 35-minute film really belonged to Sacha Dhawan who follows up his scene-stealing turn in Gatiss’ An Adventure in Space and Time with another wonderful and charismatic central role as library assistant Garrett who suffers a nervous collapse after being sent to retrieve the eponymous rare Hebrew text from the stacks and finding himself instead face-to-face with something … Else.
A great addition to the hall of Ghost Stories for Christmas, and well worth a watch along with the hour-long documentary on James’ life.
The Tractate Middoth aired on BBC2 on Christmas Day followed by Ghost Writer. Both are currently available on the BBC iPlayer. Neither are currently scheduled for DVD release.