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BBC Ghost Stories: Whistle and I'll Come to You DVD

Jonathan Miller, Andy De Emmony, 1968; 2010

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2 Reviews // 3 Lists

Film Details

Directed by Jonathan Miller, Andy De Emmony

Produced in 1968; 2010

Main Language - English

Countries & Regions - British Film

MovieMail's Review

Two versions of MR James's story, starring Michael Hordern and John Hurt. Jonathan Miller's superb 1968 adaptation is one of the greatest of all small screen horrors, writes Michael Brooke.

As the sixties segued into the seventies, big-screen horror underwent a fundamental sea-change. Thanks to a relaxation of censorship on both sides of the Atlantic, the shivery yet subtle chills of The Innocents (1961) and The Haunting (1963) were abandoned in favour of as much graphic gore as special effects would permit.

But there was one regular producer of authentically old-fashioned horror during this period, offering scenes where the protagonist can’t quite identify the only other living thing on an otherwise deserted beach, where there’s unmistakable evidence that he hasn’t spent the night alone despite his hotel bedroom being firmly locked, or where he expects to touch stone but gets warm fur instead.

From 1971 to 1978, and again in 2005-2006, the BBC produced an annual ‘Ghost Story for Christmas’, all ten of which have now been anthologised in a new five volume DVD series. These are bookended by the 1968 and 2010 adaptations of MR James’s classic chiller ‘Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad’ that comprise volume 1. The first was adapted by Jonathan Miller, and remains one of the greatest small-screen horror films ever made, with Michael Hordern’s fusty, mumbling academic uncovering a long-buried flute and making the mistake of blowing it to see what happens. The remake casts John Hurt in the same role, adds colour and widescreen and also a new subplot about his senile wife.

MR James also fuels the two stories of volume 2, both featuring Clive Swift as the researcher Dr Black. In the previously unavailable The Stalls of Barchester, he pieces together the tale of the Cathedral’s Archdeacon (Robert Hardy), and works out how he met his untimely death, while in A Warning to the Curious, he meets a clearly terrified archaeologist (Peter Vaughan) and learns of his discovery. With three further volumes coming out before Halloween, lovers of spine-chilling tales have plenty to celebrate.

Michael Brooke on 18th July 2012
Author of 145 reviews

BBC Ghost Stories: Whistle and I'll Come to You BBC Ghost Stories: Whistle and I'll Come to You BBC Ghost Stories: Whistle and I'll Come to You BBC Ghost Stories: Whistle and I'll Come to You BBC Ghost Stories: Whistle and I'll Come to You

Film Description

Volume 1 in the BFI's BBC Ghost Stories collection pairs both versions of Whistle and I'll Come To You - the 1968 adaptation directed by Jonathan Miller and starring Sir Michael Hordern, and the more recent reinterpretation, starring John Hurt, from 2010.

As a Christmas treat in the late 1960s and 70s, the BBC produced adaptations of ghost stories based on the works of MR James, the Cambridge academic and author of some of the most spine-tingling tales in the English language, which were broadcast to terrified viewers in the dead of winter. This was a tradition that was briefly revived by the BBC between 2007 and 2010.

These adaptations, which have a subtlety and style all of their own, have been a major influence on many contemporary British horror filmmakers and have come to be some of the most sought after British TV titles of all time by eager fans.


Whistle and I’ll Come to You (Jonathan Miller, 1968): When a sceptical professor, played with eccentric intensity in a brilliant performance by Michael Hordern, finds an old whistle on a Norfolk beach he unleashes a horrifying monster from the depths of his psyche.

Jonathan Miller’s adaptation of MR James’ terrifying tale, made for BBC’s Omnibus series, uses the bleak Norfolk landscape, superbly photographed by Dick Bush, to instil a sense of isolation and unease.

Whistle and I’ll Come to You (Andy de Emmony, 2010): In this recent rendering of MR James’s celebrated ghost story, John Hurt plays James Parkin, a lonely retiree who has left his wife in a nursing home. Troubled by this loss, he visits their old holiday haunt, but his discovery of a mysterious ring on the beach sparks a series of ghostly encounters and disturbing nightmares which refuse to disappear in the cold light of day.

Atmospheric and emotive, this modern adaptation brings a fascinating new interpretation to an endlessly creepy yarn.

DVD Details

Certificate: 12

Publisher: BFI

Length: 95 mins

Format: DVD Colour

Region: 2

Released: 20th August 2012

Cat No: BFIVD959

DVD Extras

  • Jonathan Miller and Christopher Frayling discuss Whistle and I’ll Come to You
  • MR James’ original story (2012)
  • ‘Oh Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad’, read by Neil Brand (2001)
  • Introduction to Whistle and I’ll Come to You by horror writer Ramsey Campbell (2001)
  • Ramsey Campbell reads his own MR James inspired story ‘The Guide’ (2001).

Film Stills

BBC Ghost Stories: Whistle and I'll Come to You BBC Ghost Stories: Whistle and I'll Come to You BBC Ghost Stories: Whistle and I'll Come to You BBC Ghost Stories: Whistle and I'll Come to You BBC Ghost Stories: Whistle and I'll Come to You BBC Ghost Stories: Whistle and I'll Come to You BBC Ghost Stories: Whistle and I'll Come to You

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Community Reviews

by Barry Forshaw on 24th August 2012

Certain experiences are ineluctably burned into childhood consciousnesses, and these generational scars are remembered for the rest of the lives of those undergoing su... Read on

“Very poor adaptations of the story”
by sarah Whitcombe on 2nd August 2012

Neither of these productions are worth watching.
The John Hurt version is full of ridiculous landscape continuity errors which would be laughable if they weren't s... Read on

“Bring back the scary dishcloth”
by David Blake on 15th October 2013

Michael Hordern was never less than watchable and he's outstanding in the original Jonathan Miller take on MR James. True, it doesn't stick to the written text but tha... Read on

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