Monday, November 10, 2014

M. R. James’ Whistle and I’ll Come To You

“On a winter holiday in Norfolk, a solitary, eccentric professor finds a whistle carved of bone in a graveyard. Back in his hotel room, gloating over his find, he raises the whistle to his lips, heedless of the terror it may summon…”

Whistle and I’ll Come to You is the title of a BBC television drama adapted from the ghost story “Oh, Whistle, And I’ll Come To You, My Lad” written by M.R. James.

This story was first published in 1904 and in 1968 the BBC adaptation was so well received that it inspired a yearly telecast of M.R. James’s stories broadcast under the general title A Ghost Story for Christmas 1971-78, 2005-06.

In another post entitled BBCGhost Stories Aired at Christmastime, I discuss more about M.R. James and another favorite story by him.

Whistle and I’ll Come to You

The 1968 version of this story was filmed on the English east coast in Norfolk near Waxham.

This version is considered to be a horror masterpiece. This film is presented in black and white and the atmosphere this achieves is almost another character in this story.

The photographer Dick Bush's use of close-ups and extreme camera angles achieves a chilling effect. Heightened sound effects also make the story more intense.

Equally important is Michael Hordern’s performance in this production. His character of a reclusive Cambridge professor who speaks only when necessary is effective for his humming, mumblings and facial expressions all convey a myriad of emotions.

There is one exception to this when he awkwardly goes off on a rant in response to the question "Do you believe in ghosts?"

The stories plot unwinds with increasing terror as this professor realizes that a whistle that he claimed in a beachfront cemetery has unleashed a supernatural force that he despite his academic background cannot understand or control.

M.R. James places clues throughout his story that are “warnings” that this professor although frightened chooses to ignore.
Illustration by James McBryde
Among these are: a terrifying dream, a mysterious dark figure that follows him from the cemetery and a carved Latin inscription on the whistle, Quis est iste qui venti which means “Who is this who is coming?”

The modern viewer of this production needs to have patience for this classic ghost tale unfolds in its own good time. But the wait is worth it for this adaptation is every bit as chilling as it was when it first aired in the UK.

Here is the 1968 film.

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