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Ghost Stories from the BBC: Whistle and I'll Come to You (1968 + 2010) [DVD]
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BBC Ghost Stories: Whistle and I'll Come to You (1968 + 2010)+
A film by Jonathan Miller (1968) Andy De Emmony (2010)
As a Christmas treat in the late 1960s and 70s, the BBC produced adaptations of ghost stories based on the works of M R James, the Cambridge academic and author of some of the most spine-tingling tales in the English language, which were broadcast to terrified viewers in the dead of winter. This was a tradition that was briefly revived by the BBC between 2007 and 2010.
These adaptations, which have a subtlety and style all of their own, have been a major influence on many contemporary British horror filmmakers and have come to be some of the most sought after British TV titles by their legions of eager fans.
Whistle and I'll Come to You (1968)
A film by Jonathan Miller
When a sceptical professor, played with eccentric intensity in a brilliant performance by Michael Hordern, finds an old whistle on a Norfolk beach he unleashes a horrifying monster from the depths of his psyche
Whistle and I'll Come to You (2010)
A film by Andy de Emmony
In this 2010 rendering of M R James celebrated ghost story, John Hurt plays James Parkin, a lonely retiree who has left his wife in a nursing home. Troubled by this turn of events, he visits their old holiday haunt, but discovery of a mysterious ring on the beach sparks a series of ghostly encounters and disturbing nightmares which refuse to disappear in the cold light of day.
Atmospheric and emotive, this modern adaptation brings a fascinating new interpretation to an endlessly creepy yarn.
- Jonathan Miller and Christopher Frayling discuss Whistle and I'll Come to You (BBC, 2012, 3 mins)
- M R James original storyOh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad read by Neil Brand (2001, 42 mins)
- Introduction to Whistle and I'll Come to You by horror writer Ramsey Campbell (2001, 16 mins)
- Ramsey Campbell reads his own M R James-inspired story The Guide (2001, 27 mins)
UK | 1968 + 2010 | black & white and colour | English language | 42 minutes + 52 minutes | DVD9 | Original aspect ratio 1.33:1 and 2.35:1 (16x9 anamorphic) | Dolby Digital mono audio (320kbps) | Region 2 DVD
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Top Customer Reviews
In contrast, the 2010 adaptation was a complete misfire. It's hard to know what attracted the writer and director to James' original as they seem to have thrown almost everything out and both plot and character are radically changed. Dumbed down and unsubtle, it's redeemed only by strong performances from John Hurt and Gemma Jones and good location photography.
Why the BFI has paired these 2 adaptations of the same short story is anyone's guess. It would have been far better to have given us a totally different ghost story (and a good one) as the second half of this double bill. Then it might have felt like value for money.
The second film is a less effective 2010 version, well acted, beautifully shot, but perhaps too contemporary for the material, and owing much to the recent Japanese horror cinema imagery. On it's own, it is a decent film with plenty of atmosphere and an interesting take on the nature of the haunting, though the artefact in question is now a ring, but unfortunately it will for ever be doomed to comparison with the first version.
It captures the essence of the original story while tastefully avoiding the temptation to update the plot by sensationalising it or overdoing the supernatural events that take place. Nor does it suffer from the BBC dramatization syndrome of the 60s and 70s. One of the problems with those early television adaptations is that the makers of these productions thought that "dramatising" meant simply adding pictures to text. They assumed that if you were faithful to the events and dialog, and dressed people up in period costume, then it would be a good adaptation. However, the result was often a soulness, mechanical performance that failed to capture the essence of the original.
In contrast, Miller's adaptation of the M.R. James classic "Oh Whistle and I'll come to you my lad" does not do any of those things. It's filmed on location and is refreshingly cinematic in appeal. Instead of trying to follow the story's dialogue word for word, it focuses instead on conveying the soul of the story. There is no music added to accompany the drama. Silence permeates the film, heightened by the sparse dialogue and attention to sounds such as the clinking of cutlery and chairs being moved. Amidst this we hear the rambling thoughts and muttering of the main character - Professor Parkins played by Michael Horden. The silence somehow conveys the existential loniness of Parkins and the infinite and undefinable world he is lost in, symbolised by the stark black and white photography of a remote region of the Norfolk coast. Hordern does an excellent job of bringing the fidgety, crusty college professor character to life, and is a sheer delight to watch as he mumbles and reflects his way through the long scenes.Read more ›
Both `versions' move some way from the original story, but the Jonathan Miller film from 1968 creates a classic in the process, and would be well worth buying if it was the only programme on the DVD. I'd recommend you buy the complete 6-disc set. Ghost Stories for Christmas (Expanded 6-Disc Collection Box Set) [DVD]
`Oh Whistle, and I'll Come to You' (40 min) is a simple story, at least on the surface. A holidaying professor discovers an ancient whistle with a Latin inscription, and blows it. I'm giving away nothing by saying that his whistle does not go unanswered ...
From this premise, Jonathan Miller created a film about loneliness, fear and the crumbling of a neurotic, arrogant personality in the face of the unknown. There have been doubts expressed about whether this is (as the narrator tells us) "a tale of the supernatural" at all, or a psychological study. Without revealing too many details, there certainly is an old whistle, there are physical phenomena and there is definitely something stirring, so for me this is a genuine ghost story and a very great one - however it might sometimes be interpreted.
Michael Hordern is, as always, excellent as Professor Parkin. With no modern special effects to work with, this film relies on his superb central performance and brilliant filming along the wild Norfolk coastline with low winter sun, crunching shingle and wide, sweeping and not quite deserted beaches.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I've remembered this ever since I saw it on television all those years ago, and I'm thrilled to be able to watch it again. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Allan
A chilling classic! Watch it on a cold December night when your Christmas Tree is a silhouette!Published 3 months ago by E C LANE