A GHOST STORY FOR CHRISTMAS - NUMBER 13 (2006)
Mark Letheren is haunted by unearthly vistas in A VIEW FROM A HILL.
THE BBC GHOST STORY FOR CHRISTMAS strand from the 1970s returned with these two entries. Both add a layer of weird science to their ghostly goings-on, as the laws of physics are played with fancifully. A VIEW FROM A HILL - adapted from M. R. James by Peter Harness and directed by Luke Watson - sees young Fitzwilliam Museum curator Dr Fanshawe (Mark Letheren) discovering some homemade binoculars while cataloguing the archaeological collection of the late father of debt-laden Squire Richards (Pip Torrens). The field glasses - created by deceased local watchmaker and amateur necromancer Baxter (Simon Linnell) - give Fanshawe visions of Fulnaker Abbey in all its splendour and a gibbet on Gallows Hill, in reality locations now dissolved. It transpires that Baxter's "very peculiar ... 'abits" of boiling the bones of condemned men resulted in a noxious fluid, some of which has remained sealed inside the binoculars.
Never previously adapted on film or television, A View from a Hill was first published in the May 1925 edition of the London Mercury, and in the same year formed part of the A Warning to the Curious and Other Ghost Stories anthology. Harness and Watson successfully evoke the washed-out landscapes and corner-of-the-eye creepiness of the best 70s output and it is also beautifully played; moving James' Edwardian setting to the post-WWII decline of country estates, social status is reflected as weary condemnation. When Fanshawe makes clear to Richards that he is an archaeologist and a doctor, the Squire caustically responds "have to get you to take a look at my feet."
Greg Wise is more Indiana Jones than M.R. James in NUMBER 13.
NUMBER 13 - adapted from James by Justin Hopper and directed by Pier Wilkie - had been brought to the screen on two, presumed lost, occasions: as part of NBC's GREAT GHOST TALES of 1961, and as a second season episode of MYSTERY AND IMAGINATION in 1966. Originally appearing in the 1904 Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, the location of the story is moved from Viborg, Denmark, to Winchester Cathedral, where Oxford academic Professor Anderson (Greg Wise) is sucked into a spatial-distorting hotel room occupied by a sixteenth-century diabolist. It seems somewhat out of place that Anderson is a handsome adventurer, and the Phantom's hand is black-gloved like a Dario Argento serial killer. NUMBER 13's other frissons are similarly abstract: the English hotelier using the centre panel of Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delights, and a mention for Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins.