|Art by Paul Lowe|
Chatting recently (via trend social media) with celebrated ghost story author Steve Duffy, we touched upon the various adaptations of M.R. James stories. 'Count Magnus' was mentioned, as a story that has not been filmed despite being very popular. Most admirers of MRJ would put it in their top ten, if not top five.
One possibility is that the framing narrative causes problems. As you may recall, the papers of Mr. Wraxall fall into the nameless narrator's hands after a house he inherits is torn down. Thus we know from the the start that the story is happening at two removes - it's a story on the page for a person in a story on the page. As a framing device it's fine, but it might be a bit tricky on screen.
Or would it? Because the essence of the story is the excessive and arbitrary nature of the Count's violence. We know that, when he was alive, he dealt out brutal punishments to fractious peasants 'with no sparing hand'. We discover that in death he exacts an appalling toll upon two poachers in his woods. One is driven mad by witnessing he fate of the man who is killed by having... Well, if you haven't read the story I won't spoil it. Heh heh heh.
Where was I? Oh, yes, the only reasonable view is that Mr. Wraxall falls foul of the Count simply because - like the poachers - he shows insufficient respect for an old-school aristocrat. The English tourist is rather flippant about Magnus, calling him a rascal and so forth. This is enough to trigger what is essentially a kind of wild hunt across northern Europe, with Wraxall as the prey.
Getting back to our putative adaptation, what might work is simply this. Narrator chappie is presented with MS found in demolished house. Produces it in front of friend(s) and reads it to him/them. Asks 'What do you think?' A sensible chap remarks that it's a load of nonsense - of course a long-dead Swedish count couldn't do such things. 'Count Magnus is at best a heap of old bones, dear fellow - and has been for centuries!'
Woops. Cue closing shot of sceptical chap exiting onto night-bound street, at the end of which we see the profiles of a tall, cloaked figure and a much smaller companion. Perhaps a quick flash of tentacle, give the punters what they want.
Well, that's my take on it. If anyone called Spielberg wants me, I'll be in the bath.