Jonathan Miller

Whistle and I’ll Come To You (BBC/BFI DVD)

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Contains spoilers as to the original short story and the two adaptations reviewed.

I’d intended to do a little Halloween-themed run of reviews this week but sadly time and other commitments got the better of me. However, one did manage to sneak under the wire – a look at the two screen adaptations of MR James’ Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come To You, My Lad made by the BBC 42 years apart and released again this month by the British Film Institute as part of its Gothic season.

MR James was an early 20th century medieval scholar and in his time provost of both King’s College, Cambridge and Eton College. Today he’s best recalled for his sideline of writing ghostly short stories, adaptations of which were for a time a staple of the BBC’s Christmas television schedule in the 1970s. They possess a rich nostalgic appeal to those who saw and loved them at a time, so that every now and then a revival of the spirit of retelling the ghost stories of Christmas past is attempted.

I should confess that I wasn’t one of those who avidly watched the dramas at the time. Some came along far too early for me, while even on reruns the late ones generally proved too slow and subtle for my young self. These are ghost stories for adults, and moreover for intellectuals, and not the Paranormal Activity, Insidious or The Conjuring sort of over-manic fare today that gets taken as horror. In fact there’s nothing really ‘horrific’ in these works at all, they are more accurately tales of the unsettling that may or may not send a chill down your spine, or perhaps leave you anxiously glancing behind you next time you’re out walking alone. Read the rest of this entry »