Saturday, 31 October 2015

Hallowe'en Montyfest



M.R. James is the central figure in the development of the British ghost story, influencing writers as diverse as Ramsey Campbell, Robert Westall, H.P. Lovecraft, and Susan Hill. Put another way, if Monty James hadn't existed, ghost stories and by extension modern horror fiction would be very different. So here are a few dramatised examples of his work, and works influenced by him.

We begin with the Christmas 2013 Mark Gatiss adaptation of 'The Tractate Middoth'. Time-shifted to the inter-war years, the story works well and it's good to see Monty's usual mix of scary incident and light, comedic interludes used to such good effect. Excellent cast, too.






Now for a little drama screened last Hallowe'en - an episode of the BBC daytime soap Doctors. This shows what can be done on a budget within a tight time-frame. A good script and solid performances, plus a few visual nods to an earlier adaptation by Jonathan Miller. Anyone unfamiliar with Monty's work would, I think, have their interest piqued by this.


BBC Doctors Series 16 Episode 124 Whistle 31/10/14 by uktvshows

Moving on to radio drama, the late Sheila Hodgson wrote a series of ghost stories in which M.R. James features as a kind of amateur occult sleuth. This is my favourite of a very listenable bunch, a tale of witchcraft with a kind of haunted picture spin. Again, the mix of humour and the supernatural is just right.



Now an American take on M.R. James, dating from the Sixties. The radio show The Black Mass focused on Poe, Bierce, and Lovecraft, but also dramatised some British tales - among them works by Graham Greene and Nigel Kneale. The choice of this relatively minor story is interesting, as it works surprisingly well.



Next, something a bit arty from BBC 2. 'Do Not Disturb' by Timberlake Wertenbaker is a one-off TV drama starring Peter Capaldi and Frances Barber. It's about a group of ghost story enthusiasts who go to a coastal town to celebrate the life of a writer called Eleanor Mont. The parallels between the work of the fictional Mont and the real Monty can hardly be accidental...



Finally, a shout out to the excellent website A Thin Ghost, where you can find texts of M.R. James's ghost stories plus information about numerous dramatisations - many, sadly, now lost.

And finally, finally...

Happy Hallowe'en!

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