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VINE VOICEon 14 June 2012
Synopsis - A Warning to the Curious.
A impecunious amateur archaeologist arrives at a small Norfolk town intent on finding a missing crown which legend says protect's England from invasion.
Finding it isn't much of a problem, but the very act of finding it unleashes retribution from beyond the grave.
This was the second of eight "Ghost Stories for Christmas" the B.B.C. made between 1971 and 1978, and was one of the best in the series. Some other's mention "The Signalman" as the best, I have both stories but find I play this one more. Just personal taste I suppose.
There is a genuine air of creepyness about this episode which is almost palpable, helped no doubt by the on-location filming.
These tales may be low on effects but they are high on atmosphere, and that's the way I prefer it.
For anyone who's interested I've listed all episodes in the 70s series below and the original trasmission date.
I've put the original author in parenthesis.
24/12/71. The Stalls of Barchester. (M.R.James)
24/12/72. A Warning to the Curious. (M.R.James) 2002 DVD release.
25/12/73. Lost Hearts. (M.R.James)
23/12/74. The Treasure of Abbot Thomas. (M.R.James)
23/12/75. The Ash Tree. (M.R.James)
22/12/76. The Signalman. (Charles Dickens) 2002 DVD release.
28/12/77. Stigma. (Clive Exton)
25/12/78. The Ice House. (John Bowen)
Unusually for the Beeb at this time all these stories were shot on 16mm film.
After being disappointed at how so little remained of the "Mystery and Imagination" TV series, I'm glad these stories are finally seeing the light of day, or should that be, darkest of night? Now if only the Beeb or the BFI will release "Out of the Unknown" (Series four was more supernatural then sci-fi) and "Doomwatch", then my viewing pleasure would reach new heights.
Also worth considering are - Nigel Kneale's "The Stone Tape" (1972).
"Schalcken The Painter" (1979) - An Omnibus presentation, it is filmed like a Dutch interior painting, truly exquisite, now see if you can spot Rembrandt!
And last but by no means least the wonderfully creepy "Woman in Black" (1989), only released on region one! Why?
People of the MTV generation will no doubt find the pacing slow in these productions, but I suspect they will not be the ones purchasing them as the teenage body count isn't very high, and there isn't copious amounts of teenage blood on view.
For anyone who likes creepy NOT gory ghost stories I can recommend anything by M.R.James, who is to the supernatural story what Lennon and McCartney are to pop music!
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VINE VOICEon 28 May 2012
[See my review of Volume 1 for general comments on this series.]

The Stalls of Barchester is up there with James' best stories, but for some reason I don't remember this adaptation as one of the most gripping. It tells the story of a cleric who crosses a moral boundary due to ambition, and thereafter becomes increasingly entrapped by supernatural retribution. A Warning to the Curious is one of the best adaptations of the whole series. The title alone is the key to James - "don't meddle", but of course, as in the best tradition of ghost/adventure stories, they always do. The action uses superb location filming of the correct setting, James' beloved Norfolk coast. Surprisingly, but very effectively, the main role is played by Peter Vaughan, probably best remembered as Grouty, the Mr Big of Slade Prison in Porridge. The script varies from James by adding the element that the main character is almost penniless, and thus desperate for some sort of success even at the risk of his life and sanity; the same device was used in the more recent production of View from a Hill. (Don't take my word for this, watch it when the BBC release ALL the M R James productions, not just a selection!) A classic BBC horror production. (If it wasn't for the obvious lack of electricity, I could almost swear that I first saw A Warning to the Curious by candlelight, due to the Winter of Discontent powercuts!)

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 29 June 2012
These two cracking pieces of television from 1971 and 1972 properly kicked off the BBC's "Ghost Story for Christmas" season (the earlier M.R. James "Whistle and I'll Come To You" was not part of the Christmas series). They started with two of the master's best-known and atmospheric tales.

"The Stalls of Barchester (Cathedral)" is one of James's most effective stories. The mounting pressure on Archdeacon Haynes as he gets supernatural vengeance for his wrongdoing is actually rather harrowing in the book. The producers do a good job of representing this with the character here (played superbly by Robert Hardy), though it still doesn't match the book. Nevertheless, this is a superbly made and beautifully filmed episode. The Norwich location is perfect, as is the cast, which includes Clive Swift and even young Mr Grace and Mavis from Corrie!

"A Warning to the Curious" was a good choice for a follow up, although being quite different it shares the same sort of claustrophobia and incomprehensible supernatural terror. The fantastic Peter Vaughan deviates considerably from the character in the book, but still is highly effective as the ambitions treasure hunter. There is more cinematic production beautifully filmed on that most Jamesian of locations, the coast of East Anglia. Clive Swift returns, playing Dr Black, in what would be his final appearance in the series.

The bonus features bring us the same stories again, as produced by the BBC in 2000 for another "Ghost Stories for Christmas" series. These featured Christopher Lee as James in a recreation of the traditional Christmas Eve readings. Although it's hard to imagine the tall and commanding Lee as James, these are beautifully done and Lee's wonderful voice and manner is perfect for these stories. The production is lovely too - gorgeous academic rooms, old books, glasses of port and blazing fires - interspersed with short dramatisations from the stories. I hope the remainder of this series sees a release. If that were not enough the original 70s films have a new introduction with Lawrence Gordon Clark.

The picture quality varies, and is best on "Warning", which despite its noise and bits of damage is generally superb, it could almost be HD if you squint.

The producers of all these episodes did a wonderful job of capturing the spirit of the original stories. Nothing quite matches the thrill of reading the originals, especially for the first time, but nevertheless these are very special pieces of vintage television.
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on 28 August 2012
I bought the original BFI issue of 'A Warning to the Curious' and reviewed it on Amazon just over four years ago. Now, 'The Stalls at Barchester' has been issued with 'A Warning to the Curious' as the second feature. 'The Stalls at Barchester' is a dark tale in more than one sense. Deacon Haynes (Played by Robert Hardy) covets the Archdeacon's post, and removes him from this world by contriving to have a stair-rod removed. Once ensconced in the Archdeacon's chair, Haynes finds to his cost that supernatural forces are now arrayed against him, with ultimately, fatal consequences.

The Stalls at Barchester has a claustrophobic feel to it, mainly because most scenes are set at night-time. Robert Hardy plays Haynes as a cold, calculating person with few redeeming features. A portrayal many times removed from his 'Siegfried Farnon' in 'All Creatures Great and Small.' Unlike Paxton in 'A Warning to the Curious' Haynes does not engender sympathy.

Lawrence Gordon Clark produced both titles. Chronologically, 'The Stalls at Barchester' was released the Christmas of 1971, 'A Warning to the Curious' a year later. Historically, 'The Stalls at Barchester' was set in 1932 and 'A Warning to the Curious' 1929-30.

Lawrence Gordon Clark, writer, producer and director condemned the character of Dr Black (the excellent Clive Swift.) who appears in both adaptations, to fall victim to the highly energetic (and lethal!) ghost of William Agar just before the end credits in 'A Warning to the Curious' thus making his appearance as the academic researcher in 'The Stalls at Barchester' highly unlikely if one uses the chronology originally supplied by James*.

(*The staging of A Warning to the Curious in the depression is Clark's idea, not James's.PHM)

Both photographed by the excellent John McGlashan, these two stories by M.R. James, are the pick of the BBC's Ghost Stories for Christmas.

Extras include: Both stories (later productions) narrated by Sir Christopher Lee.
A 30+ page booklet devoted to both productions, the main actors and production staff.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 30 November 2014
These two superb, chilling tales began what would become the annual BBC `Ghost Story for Christmas', a fixture in 1970's seasonal viewing. This is my personal favourite of the DVDs in this range, but I'd also recommend the complete 6-disc set. Ghost Stories for Christmas (Expanded 6-Disc Collection Box Set) [DVD]

M. R. James is at his best in these two stories, accounts of supernatural revenge - deserved or otherwise. Lawrence Gordon Clark's adaptations do them full justice, combining magnificent location filming, excellent performances and memorable soundtracks with the classic texts to produce a mounting sense of unease, followed by the certainty of disaster. Short (10 min) but interesting interviews with the director and a very detailed booklet introduce the productions.

Worthy of equal billing with the main features, far more than just DVD `extras', are the dramatised readings of the same two stories by Christopher Lee. The whole disc and every item on it fully deserve five stars.
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In `The Stalls of Barchester' (45 min), an ambitious clergyman seeks promotion by unorthodox means, only to discover that the old carvings on his cathedral's choir stalls are also quite unorthodox. Told via a series of flash-backs, we see Dr. Black (Clive Swift) uncovering this history years later in the quiet of the cathedral library. This approach is faithful to the original text and brings us perfectly into the haunted mind of the Archdeacon (Robert Hardy) as he struggles to ignore and deny the growing signs of approaching doom.

Filmed around Norwich cathedral, with perfectly chosen texts sung by the choir cleverly underlining the state of the Archdeacon's mind as he hears them, this is a claustrophobic masterpiece of darkness and dread. "I absolutely shrink from the dark season", says the Archdeacon one autumn. No wonder, because in his house "there *is* company, of some kind." Watch late at night in a darkened room and you will be glad that you (unlike the Archdeacon) do not have to light your way to bed with a flickering candle ...
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`A Warning to the Curious' (50 min) opens out the horror into the wide spaces of the Norfolk coast. An amateur archaeologist makes the greatest find of his life, an Anglo-Saxon crown, buried for centuries and unknown to anyone - living. Peter Vaughan plays an older, more down-trodden character than in the original story, and the timing is moved forward a few decades to the great depression. This gives him strong motivation - he's desperate for money as well as fame. After finding the crown, he's simply desperate to put it back.

Wide landscapes and blue skies are no protection against vengeful spirits; the beauty of the filmed scenery and music gives emphasis to the pursuing horror. With a few changes to the text, this story introduces more moments that never fail to give a jolt, no matter how many times you've seen them, as Paxton's viewpoint becomes ours. Dr. Black is once again on hand to help the story along, but this time perhaps he is rather too close to the ghost for comfort ...
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`Ghost Stories for Christmas with Christopher Lee' are two dramatised readings (30 min each) of the above stories. Far more than `DVD extras', they are superb, raising the spirit of the legendary Christmas Eve gatherings where James would perform his latest ghost story to academic colleagues and undergraduates, late at night in the Provost's Lodge.

By candlelight and firelight, the audience assembles and glasses of port are passed round, then some object - an old chest of books, a faded photograph - reminds the host of an uncanny experience. The tale begins, not merely read but performed by Christopher Lee with a lifetime's skill.

The stories are abridged but James' original text is faithfully followed, illustrated only by a few simple vignettes, scenes such as the listeners might imagine, and their reactions of interest, even amusement, gradually turning to chilled horror as the narrative unfolds. The television adaptations did expand on and alter the stories in some ways, so these wonderful readings are not only fine entertainment but give the viewer a chance to experience the originals in an `authentic' setting; perfect viewing for a winter's night "when the wind blows high."
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on 21 August 2012
Finally re-released classic M R James ghost stories adapted for BBC at Christmas. I already owned a copy of "A Warning to the Curious" but wanted the additional story, and with "The Stalls of Barchester" this DVD represents the best of the BFI releases (sadly Jonathan Miller's, "Whistle and I'll come to you" has been put on a DVD with the terrible adaptation from 2010 and some poor extras). All these dvds come with a nice little booklet with key cast/director biographies along with some essays on the particular stories (including one by Robert Lloyd Parry who performs James stories live and is must see if you are a fan) for that dvd. The picture quality for AWttC has been considerably cleaned up compared to my previous copy, and as a brilliant addition there are included the Christopher Lee readings of both stories. There are also introductions to both films by the director as an extra feature and they provide a useful insight into the making of them.
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on 16 April 2013
Considering the difficulty of presenting a credible and growing terror without recourse to sheeted ghosts et al, this version is extremely well directed and very atmospheric. It comes as close to a "psychological" thriller as is possible in an M R James' story - but the cat is definitely NOT psychological! An excellent story of the expiation of guilt and revenge from 'the other side' coupled with a sensitive treatment of the period and place.
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on 13 October 2014
One of the best ghost story videos I've ever purchased. No blood and guts, just ghost story telling at its best. Both films have an undefinable claustrophobic element to them as you are drawn in as the stories develop. The scene where Robert Hardy (who plays the Archdeacon of Barchester) is in his study and a voice whispers 'can I come in?' and the expectant blackness of the open door frame is just pure terror. And then there THAT bedroom scene with Peter Vaughan as the archaeologist with the strobe lighting..a real jolt there.

The films are unrestored, so the picture and sound quality is not up to modern standards. If you are looking to enjoy a ghost story full of fast paced 'in your face' horror, this will not be for you. If, on the other hand, you prefer a more cerebral experience, then you may well enjoy it.
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on 28 January 2016
BBC Ghost Stories series by the brilliant M. R. James was one of the best TV series ever made. The stories are perfect classics and were filmed with imagination, originality and atmosphere. ABSOLUTELY EXCELLENT !
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on 21 January 2015
Both 'The Stalls Of Barchester Cathedral' and 'A Warning To The Curious' are very good versionsn of two of M.R. James strongest ghost stories. Robert Hardy is in fine form in the first as is Peter Vaughan in the second. Lawrence Gordon Clark's adaptations are compelling even if he deviates somewhat from the original stories especially in 'A Warning...' The two Christopher Lee narrated versions which are also included form an interesting comparison with the above as they are faithful readings of the original tales.
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