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Oh whistle and I'll come to you - The Ex-Communicator

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December 28th, 2010


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09:45 pm - Oh whistle and I'll come to you
A reversioning of an old ghost story on the BBC. Jonathan Miller created a famous TV adaptation of MR James' short story 'Oh whistle and I'll come to you my lad' in the late 1960s, starring Michael Hordern. This year a new version was shown, starring John Hurt.

In the original story, and the 1960s adaptation, a desiccated professor, long estranged from his own subconscious, ill-advisedly blows on a lonely whistle that he finds on the beach, and invokes a malign spirit which pursues him.

In the new adaptation the professor has a wife, apparently with Alzheimer's, whom he has left in a care home. He goes to an hotel they visited when young, and finds a wedding ring on the beach. The malign figure which then torments him appears to be the spirit of his wife. Why? Not only why is she doing it, but why complexify a perfectly good stark story with some relationship mumbo-jumbo?

Why muddy the cold waters? What was supposed to be happening? At a guess I would say that John Hurt's devotion to his wife, which was constantly emphasised, was trapping her in this world, dead but unable to die. He had to release her, but he couldn't. Her living ghost was tormenting him with increasing desperation.

The production was good, and John Hurt - so great to see him on telly again - was fantastic. Wonderful in himself. But my feeling is that if they wanted to impose a completely new story, they should have called it a new name.

There is a longer review, well worth reading, on Paperknife here by brisingamen.

ETA - also see this excellent compilation on Paperknife which includes links to the original text, the 1960s TV adaptation, and Robert Powell reading the story.

ETA - Today's Guardian editorial on MR James

(7 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


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From:steepholm
Date:December 28th, 2010 11:36 pm (UTC)
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Thanks for the links! Most interesting.
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From:communicator
Date:December 29th, 2010 03:53 pm (UTC)
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I want more ghost stories on telly
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From:gylfinir
Date:December 29th, 2010 03:55 pm (UTC)
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Like you, I thought the story was somewhat muddled, but I thought the tension was electric, particularly the night-time bedroom scenes. That said, I was expecting the professor to display more fear the following morning(s). But John Hurt wasexcellent. I'd watch anything that featured him.
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From:communicator
Date:December 29th, 2010 03:57 pm (UTC)
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The production was fab and the hotel room scenes were very frightening
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From:gylfinir
Date:December 29th, 2010 03:59 pm (UTC)
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I have it recorded on Sky+ and will watch it again soon. It was one of the better things on TV this Christmas, and you can't get through the festive period without a good ghost story :)
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From:altariel
Date:December 29th, 2010 05:19 pm (UTC)
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It was a funny old adaptation: very scary and well made, and with all this annoying stuff bolted on. I read it as a message from the collective subconscious of the baby boom: anxiety about ageing and failing, combined with guilt at its cost to younger generations (all the dead baby dolls).

In terms of the psychodynamics of the marriage, I assume that childlessness was intended to be key and something unresolved between them.
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From:communicator
Date:December 29th, 2010 05:52 pm (UTC)
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I did think childlessness was some sort of issue, though I think that's lazy writing. The consensus seems to be - great production, strange tweaking of the story. I think they were trying to normalise it to contemporary 'issues', which is bloody daft imho.

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