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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 29 June 2012
The BBC's "Ghost Story for Christmas" arguably peaked in perfection here, with "Lost Hearts" and "The Treasure of Abbott Thomas" being spine-tinglingly good adaptations, with "The Ash Tree" not quite so successful, before giving up on M.R. James altogether in subsequent years, instead doing Dickens and then original stories.

"Lost Hearts" is wonderfully atmospheric. The cinematic production (like all these stories it was made on film on location, not videotape in the studio), the country house location and atmospheric folky music suit the story wonderfully. It's sometimes criticised for getting too gruesome too quickly (the titular "Lost Hearts" are quite literal), which goes against James's slow drip terror. The quality of the production does more than compensate for this however.

"The Treasure of Abbott Thomas" is possibly my favourite of all the productions. Michael Bryant is superb as the protagonist. Shopping channel presenter Paul Lavers appears as his young sidekick, together they make an effective on-screen team. The story is padded out slightly with non-Jamesian subplots, but on the whole this captures the spirit of M.R. James perfectly and is cracking television. Indeed, moving the action to a cathedral city in England from Germany and altering the ending makes it even more Jamesian than the story, if that's possible!

For me "The Ash Tree" was slightly disappointing. It is another superb production with a great cast (Edward Petherbridge and a young pre-Doctor Who Lalla Ward), but the adaptation didn't quite match the original story. The "present day" and past events are depicted alternately, with some of the same cast (Petherbridge for example plays two parts, the present day Sir Richard and his ancester Sir Matthew) and this adds up to a slightly confusing narrative, chopping and changing. The unpleasant aspects and the climax, a great piece of writing by James are also a little lacking in the story. That's a lot of criticism, and only because it comes after two outstandingly good episodes. On its own it's still a very good piece of television.

The only real disappointment with this release is that Christopher Lee's 2000 reading of "The Ash Tree" from the "Ghost Stories For Christmas" series has not been included as a bonus feature - all the other releases in this series have had their respective Christopher Lee film where one was produced (Number 13, The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral, A Warning to the Curious) - why miss this one out?

In summary, this is the series at its peak, with some superbly atmospheric television based on works by our greatest supernatural writer.
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[See my review of Volume 1 for general comments on this series.]

Three more of the long-awaited best. Lost Hearts is, gorily, a literal title worthy of Poe, telling the story of an aging recluse who seeks immortality by killing orphan children. This profane brutality, of course, comes back to bite him. The Treasure of Abbot Thomas, well-guarded and hidden for centuries, is sought by a rather bumptious antiquary, well played by Michael Bryant; this production brings out James' contempt for the cocky (this story and Whistle and I'll Come to You), in contrast to his sympathy for the underdog (as in A Warning to the Curious). The Ash Tree is performed and produced well, but it is one of James' weaker stories.

Stop press 1 Aug 2012 - belated release of a fifth disc, with the two remaining MRJ stories, but also all five discs as a box set.
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on 30 December 2012
I first heard about these stories only recently- around october- so I thought I'd check them out. Resisting the temptation to buy the boxset-which was going for silly money on ebay with dozens of bids, I instead plumped for sensible and reliable amazon. Dipping my toes in first with 3 stories, these well written tales from the legendary MR James were written over 100 years ago yet still resonate today (like all good writing). i was too young to remember these being on (as I wasn't born when the BBC started showing these on Christmas eves in the early 70s) and am pleasantly suprised. The emphasis is on slow,deliberate build up, and compared to today's 100 mile an hour/fast cutting/fancy editing tv can take a while to get used to, but stick with it, it's worth it. I won't spoil the stories for those of you who are thinking of purchasing this dvd, but all the tales are unexpected in their unfolding. The best in my opinion is the Ash tree which stars Barbara Ewing as a witch. Well worth a tenner (or so) of any ones money. I think I'll come back to this series in the not to distant future.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 1 December 2014
Christmas with a ghostly scare had become a BBC tradition by 1973 and was continued with these three further terrifying tales from the annual `Ghost Story for Christmas'; one scene has lived especially long in many memories. I'd recommend you buy the complete 6-disc set. Ghost Stories for Christmas (Expanded 6-Disc Collection Box Set) [DVD]

These three stories include some of M. R. James' darkest writing; black magic, vengeful guardians and lethal curses, with one central message: meddle with the powers of evil and the results will not be good. Lawrence Gordon Clark's direction again used superb location filming - perhaps even surpassing the earlier stories, some excellent performances and unforgettable soundtracks. Usually, James' plots are followed closely; the one time when that was not done produced results that are, in my opinion, the best of the three. Short (around 10 min) but interesting interviews with the director and a very detailed booklet introduce the productions.
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`Lost Hearts' (35 min) is a story so dark that it is said that M.R. James wondered whether to publish it. An attractive country house, a bookish old eccentric and his young cousin, homely servants - and suddenly revealed horror. If you aren't afraid of the music of a hurdy-gurdy now, you will be. This was one of James' earliest stories and it's more conventional than most, nearer to Gothic horror than a pure ghost story. The adaptation makes some small changes, some work well, others don't seem very helpful and Joseph O'Conor portrays Mr. Abney as a true eccentric, perhaps too eccentric for some. However, for its pure shock value this story would be hard to top.

The photography and atmosphere are simply stunning, a coach and horses coming out of the fog, idyllic landscapes, golden afternoons - an Arcadian vision of England in the Enlightenment, almost like the then fashionable paintings of scenes from the classical world. But that classical world believed in satyrs, demons and power gained by dark rites; perhaps someone still believes ... but the price of that very different `enlightenment' is high indeed ...
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`The Treasure of Abbot Thomas' (37 min) goes further from James' text than any of the other adaptations in this series - yet it is one of the finest. Abbot Thomas ("not the `good' Abbot Thomas - no-one ever said that, not even him") died long ago, leaving cryptic clues and hints of a great treasure. That treasure has never been found, but the rational Victorian clergyman Rev. Somerton believes he is on the trail - purely for academic purposes, of course. Michael Bryant gives one of the best performances of the entire series, as an intelligent, rather arrogant rationalist - at least, he is to begin with.

Filmed around Wells cathedral, the production looks magnificent; beautiful landscapes and a bright sunrise - but also dark cloisters somehow made darker by moonlight, ancient libraries holding who knows what secrets, dank tunnels, slime and a brooding presence. The music is excellent, unusual and unsettling. There are also many clever visual touches, images of details that only become obvious as clues when you already know the story. The adaptation made many changes and additions, but kept the core of James' story in the Latin texts, complex cipher and the secret left by the Abbot. A secret that it might be best not to discover ...
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`The Ash Tree' (32 min) was the final entry in the 1970's sequence of M.R. James adaptations, a tale of witchcraft, possession and vengeance, once again beautifully filmed, with the peaceful English countryside in sharp contrast with unfolding events. Edward Petherbridge gives an excellent double performance as 17th century squire Sir Matthew Fell, reluctantly caught up in the Puritan `witch-finding' mania, and also his 18th century descendant Sir Richard, a rational man of the Enlightenment. This is a very clever adaptation of the original story, with not only events from the past returning to haunt Sir Richard Fell, but also the mind of his ancestor somehow reaching through time.

The central hypothesis is very effective; what if, among all the people tried for `witchcraft', one of them was actually guilty? Mrs. Mothersole is depicted slightly too much as a victim in this adaptation, possibly this was a red herring to distract viewers before the denouement. Because what would happen if, just once, someone like Sir Matthew Fell accused, tried and executed a *genuine* witch ...?
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This disc (inexplicably) does not include the dramatised reading of `The Ash Tree' by Christopher Lee, one of the set of four splendid performances he recorded in 2000. The other three have all been released on DVD as companion pieces to the full adaptations; this one should have been too.

Even so, this DVD is a five star journey into darkness.
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on 21 September 2012
For me, this is the pick of the bunch. Three great adaptations picking up effortlessly from where the series began. Despite being a huge fan of all the films, it's The Treasure of Abbott Thomas which I watch again most often, a brilliantly acted slow-burner leading to a great underground sequence of cloying horror, and ending with a real chill. The films look great, though clearly of their time, and at long last I can finally see exactly what's going on during the creepy climax of The Ash Tree, having only ever seen it on a poor quality bootleg. Each film is preceeded by an insightful interview with director Lawrence Gordon Clarke, and the DVD is packaged with a comprehensive booklet.
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on 12 March 2014
I remember seeing these many years ago (early 70's) as a teen and they scared me. By todays standards the ghost story plays are very tame and dated but still classic tales to entertain you at Christmas. Forty years ago or so and the Christmas Ghost Stories are still talked about in our reminiscing of times (and TV) gone by.
Still very much enjoyed but no I don't hide behind the sofa.
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on 18 July 2014
Once again one feels that the Director could have adhered more closely to the actual story and its content - for instance the 'thing' in the well in 'The Treasure of Abbot Thomas'. It really should not present any problems to avoid changing the appearance of things unnecessarily. Equally, the spiders in 'The Ash Tree' are not exactly given the pride of place they deserve. I could hardly distinguish them. Anyone who has read and loved these stories could not fail to be a little 'anti-climaxed' by the visual production. However, on a more positive note, I was very impressed indeed by 'Lost Hearts' and the performance of the two children. A chilling and unforgettable production.
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on 12 February 2014
As a youngster I frightened myself stiff reading M.R. James's ghost stories & later on enjoyed some of the televised adaptations-some lost, alas. Lost Hearts was one of my favourite & in later years it left a deep impression on my daughter. The Treasure of Abbot Thomas strays a bit from the written version-why, I don't know as surely it would not have cost any more to produce if sticking to the original.The Ash Tree is not up to the highest standard but all in all, very happy to own the 3 stories.
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I waited eagerly for this release, having been a fan of the BBC Ghost Stories for many years. The three stories on this disc are all excellent examples of them - in fact Lost Hearts is one that caused me considerable disturbance when I first watched it many years ago. The special effects have not held up well for the most part, but since those were kept to a minimum in all three tales, it doesn't detract too much from them (and the sound effects in 'The Ash Tree' are superbly unsettling). What makes these dramas special is the carefully crafted storytelling, and that is timeless. None of them stick exactly to James' originals, but the divergence is clearly due to the television medium needing more visual impact and less exposition. 'The Treasure of Abbot Thomas' moves furthest from the source and in my opinion weakens the effect by making the main character far more unsympathetic, but it still tells a good tale.

The dvd is accompanied by an excellent booklet about the stories and the making of the dramatisations, but there are very few extras; all you get is an optional introduction for each one from the director. That was a bit of a letdown after the earlier release, Stalls of Barchester Cathedral, had the wonderful bonus of the Christopher Lee readings. And there does not seem to have been much done to improve the picture and sound quality. But you do get three first-class horror stories for your money, and it seems ungrateful to demand more. Well worth investing in for any lover of classic horror.
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on 24 November 2013
Brilliant, frightening, scary.....terrific
These films come from the great days of the BBC or indeed any television company.
Superbly photographed combined with wonderful story telling and direction. I would recommend this dvd
to anyone who wants to watch the very best television has to offer.
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