OTHER GHOSTLY TALES
THE WAINSCOTING first transmitted 22nd December 2008
A young man comes into the local museum asking about a door knocker that he found sticking out of the ground near his new house. The door knocker belongs to Geap Manor, an old house with a dark history. The young man, a history teacher, is intrigued by the curatorís words and asks to hear more.
The tale that the curator tells him is of an unscrupulous businessman in 1786. Joe Bloxham made a fortune in South America, but in the process many others lost their money. Bloxham has sunk his money into Geap Manor, a property that he is upgrading in the most modern styles. Unfortunately, there appears to be a problem with the living room wainscoting. Itís not a mouse and the sounds are distinctly unnerving. As Joeís nerves are slowly shredded, another man investigates the source of the wood that the wainscoting was made of.
This is a fine example of short storytelling on television. Mark Gatissís script has just half an hour to tell a spooky story, but in that time we are treated to real and believable characters, some deliciously overripe faux-period dialogue and a real descent into fear. Itís a wonderfully playful script that stays well on the right side of silly, but raises as many smiles as it does shivers with some fine lines. It also has some nicely worked in background detailing to give it a bit more depth, adding to the bite when the spooky stuff really kicks in.
To this end, things are aided by a nice cast who make the most of the words and bring their characters to life in the first few minutes, sucking the audience into the situation and holding disbelief at bay. Performances in a piece like this have to be carefully judged not to tip over into pantomime, but there is no chance of it happening here. Philip Jackson makes his businessman unpleasantly cavalier about the fates of others, but still likeable enough for us to care about his plight. Mark Gatiss (CLONE) himself sets up the tone nicely as the curator, again treading a fine line that keeps the fun to the forefront without losing the spooky.
The Wainscoting is a good old fashioned scary story with a sense of fun, great dialogue, great performances and deserves to be on the main BBC channel rather than stuck away on the satellite arm. The only flaw is that the pay off is a bit weak when compared to the build up.
Weíre looking forward to the second already.Written by Mark Gatiss
SOMETHING OLD first transmitted 23rd December 2008
The curator tells Ben another tale of Geap Manor. In this, Felix throws a party in 1927 to announce his engagement to Ruthy, something that his ex, Katherine, is none-too happy about. Neither is his grandmother when she hears the news, but for entirely different reasons. The appearances of a mysterious woman in bridal costume lead to the possibility of an old family tragedy being replayed.
In reverse contrast to the opening episode, Something Old fails to conjure up such wonderful characters and delightful dialogue as before, but has a pay off that is infinitely more satisfying. The plot here is relatively simple - a party, an engagement and a ghostly bride out to exact revenge. Rather than a spooky build up, there are appearances of the bride in unexpected places that are aimed at provoking a jump, but don't quite manage it.
The revelations that underpin the haunting - the family curse, the wedding night infidelity et al - are all disappointingly predictable and the faux 20s dialogue isn't half as much fun as the previous episode, although there are still some lovely lines.
The characters also don't engage to the same degree, with the honourable exception of Jean Marsh who sails through the whole thing with the majesty of an actress who knows exactly what she's about.
All of which makes it sound like SOMETHING OLD is not very good, which is to do it a disservice. It's a perfectly fine ghostly tale, but merely suffers by comparison to what came before.Written by Mark Gatiss
THE KNOCKER first transmitted 24th December 2008
Ben concludes his conversation with the Curator and places the door knocker from Geap Manor on his own front door. At 3.43am there is a ghostly knocking, and Ben finds his door leads into the hall of the long-demolished Manor. There he witnesses an act of sorcery that will have dark consequences for Ben and his estranged heavily pregnant girlfriend.
The final instalment of Mark Gatiss' trilogy of spooky stories comes right up to date, but loses none of the atmosphere or menace of what has gone before. The build up is textbook spooky with sounds in the night, shadows on the wall, surprising plot twists and a denouement that really delivers.
The plot is nicely twisty, dropping its bombshells with skill and impeccable timing for maximum impact. The actors take the gift of a script and run with it and the direction really lays on the style.
The BBC has a reputation for the quality of its Christmas ghost stories and CROOKED HOUSE will only enhance that reputation.Written by Mark Gatiss
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