A VIEW FROM A HILL (2005) and NUMBER 13 (2006): TWO CLASSIC GHOST STORY ADAPTATIONS FROM THE BBC. BASED ON THE SHORT STORIES BY MONTAGUE RHODES JAMES.
STARRING MARK LETHEREN, PIP TORRENS, DAVID BURKE, GREG WISE AND TOM BURKE.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
These two ghost stories from the BBC are almost every bit as atmospheric as their counterparts from the 1970s. I say ‘almost,’ because nothing could ever really fully emulate the bleak loneliness of A Warning to the Curious or the lush Victorian creepiness of The Stalls of Barchester, but both A View from a Hill and Number 13 are pretty bloody jolly good attempts, lol, as the English themselves might say.
In A View from A Hill, a young archaeologist fellow called Dr. Fanshawe has come to a posh stately home in the England of post-World War Two to evaluate a collection of historical artefacts belonging to the current Squire’s late father. The current Squire Richards is an unbearable toff, despite his situation of being extremely strapped for cash (hence the selling off of the ‘family silver’), and he really gets on Dr. Fanshawe’s rather class-sensitive wick.
Dr. Fanshawe gets plenty of time off to explore the local countryside, armed with a pair of binoculars lent to him by the Squire. But through these extraordinary binoculars, Fanshawe seems able to view a magnificent old Abbey called Fulnaker which the Squire assures him is no more, and also a gibbet complete with a hanged man on the nearby Gallows Hill, which loathsome practice has also, fortunately, died out by now.
The binoculars once belonged to, and, in fact, were made by, a local character of no small measure of eccentricity called Baxter. Fanshawe is informed of all this by the Squire’s butler Patten, who still stays loyal to the Squire in spite of the fact that the rude and impoverished aristocrat can no longer afford to pay him.
The sad truth is that the ageing Patten probably has nowhere else to go at this stage of his life. One wonders how many more domestic servants suffered the same lonely fate as Patten, once the English aristcracy had started to decline in earnest in those post-war years. (Remember Mr. Steevens, the devoted butler from Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day? How happy do you suppose he was for the rest of his life, post-domestic service?)
Anyway, Baxter, who ‘fancied himself as an archaeologist,’ had a rather nasty habit of (believe it or not) boiling the bones of the condemned men who met their sad ends on Gallows Hill. Nothing good can therefore ensue from young Fanshawe’s ‘looking through the eyes of a dead man,’ as he is doing every time he takes up these accursed field glasses. There’s something evil abroad up on Gallows Hill and on the plot of land that used to house Fulnaker Abbey. Will it ensnare young Fanshawe, who just can’t seem to stay away from the place . . .?
Number 13 follows the popular M.R. James theme of a fusty, middle-aged academic, much more used to dreaming spires and dusty old tomes than life in the real world, coming to an old cathedral town to do some research in their ancient library. Professor Anderson is, admittedly, a good deal younger and, dare I say handsomer, than Michael Hordern in Whistle and I’ll Come to You, but he has the fussy, prissy mannerisms of the lifelong bachelor academic down to a T.
He demands to be moved from the hotel room he’s been given, to a room with a desk and plenty of room for him to work. This is how he comes to find himself in Room 12, next to the titular Room Number 13 which only appears to materialise intermittently.
That’s because it’s very much a ghost room, occupied by a sixteenth-century Satanist who still holds court there, giving rise to disturbing sounds and laughter and whispered conversations and shadows that all conspire to make Anderson feel like he’s going a little bit mad. He’s outraged to find that he’s no longer welcome in the archives of the town library, because of what he might find out about this Satanist fellow.
After all, the natives in this rural part of the world are still extremely superstitious already; what would it do to the town to discover that they once had a veritable coven of witches and Devil-worshippers in their midst…?
Okay, fair enough, but Anderson still has to contend with the tenant in Room Number 13, who has a most disquieting habit of trying to draw the occupants of Room Number 12 in to his world of devilish bacchanals and satanic revelries…
David Burke, who played the butler Patten in A View from a Hill, is excellent here too as poor Gunton, the put-upon proprietor of the hotel he doesn’t yet realise is haunted. (God Almighty, how could he not know??? Lol.)
Tom Burke (his real-life son), who is jolly good at playing decadent toffs (he portrayed rich, boorish swell Bentley Drummle in the 2011 BBC adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations), is terrific here as the boozy, flirtatious lawyer Jenkins, who provides a good back-up buddy for Professor Anderson when Anderson tries to unravel the mysteries of Room Number 13 . . .
These are both good, creepy little ghost stories for Christmas. Enjoy them, but make sure to keep the lights on…
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
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