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Film Details

Directed by: Lawrence Gordon Clark Derek Lister

Produced: 1978

Countries & Regions: United Kingdom

DVD Details

Certificate: 15

Studio: British Film Institute

Length: 105 mins

Format: DVD

Region: Region 2

Released: 17 September 2012

Cat No: BFIVD962

Languages(s): English
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BBC Ghost Stories: The Signalman / Stigma / The Ice House

Cast: Denholm Elliott , Bernard Lloyd , Peter Bowles , David Beames , John Stride , Christopher Blake , Elizabeth Romilly , Geoffrey Burridge , Kate Binchy , Reginald Jessup , Denholm Elliot

Availability: On Order, dispatched within 5 - 10 days. Delivery Times

Triple bill of supernatural dramas adapted by the BBC. In ’The Signalman’ (1976), based on the story by Charles Dickens, Denholm Elliott... Read More




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Triple bill of supernatural dramas adapted by the BBC. In ’The Signalman’ (1976), based on the story by Charles Dickens, Denholm Elliott stars as a troubled railway signalman who has witnessed some unsettling sights and sounds along his stretch of track. A curious traveller (Bernard Lloyd) tries to make sense of these strange goings-on. In ’Stigma’ (1977) Katherine Delgado (Kate Binchy) and her family move into a new home but have difficulty removing a menhir from their garden. When they disrupt the ancient site, a spectre is unleashed which leaves Katherine experiencing terrifying situations and an increasing sense of panic. In ’The Ice House’ (1978) Paul (John Stride) goes to stay at a spa resort to help him get over the breakdown of his marriage. While there he meets the resort’s bizarre owners, siblings Clovis (Geoffrey Burridge) and Jessica (Elizabeth Romilly), who lead him to their garden ice house and encourage him to take in the scent of their flowers. When his nights are disturbed by unexplained activity he decides to take matters into his own hands to find out the truth about the mysterious ice house.

Having set the tone for the 'A Ghost Story for Christmas' series between 1971-75 with his adaptations of stories from MR James, and realising that the BBC drama department's budget wouldn't stretch to Scandinavian location filming for an adaptation of James's Number 13, Lawrence Gordon Clark turned to Dickens for his 1976 entry, The Signalman. Some elements are immediately familiar: a fog-shrouded landscape, a solitary figure on open ground, a man sleeping uneasily in his bed, but a different writer brought a different threat. Instead of MR James's victims - antiquarians and over-curious meddlers who in some way call up their own fate - Dickens' tale allied a ghost story to the impersonal, indifferent might and undeserving deaths of the industrial age. This was something of which he had first-hand experience, having survived a terrible train crash the year before he wrote it.

The story, adapted by Andrew Davies for the screen, is essentially a two-hander played out by Denholm Elliott's railway signalman - a man whose nerves are frayed to breaking point by spectral visitations that foretell tragedy on his steeply banked stretch of line - and Bernard Lloyd's visitor to whom he relates his tale. The latter's entreaties to rational thought as a means to overcome the railwayman's dread apparitions are found wanting in the face of implacable fate. 'The screams of the injured and the dying echo in a most persistent way' says the unfortunate haunted man, marked out for a calling beyond his reason or understanding: 'why me for heaven's sake, a poor signalman on this station! Why not go to somebody with credit to be believed, and power to act?'.

Finding that MR James's Swedish-set tale Count Magnus would be impossible to film on the given budget, Clark turned to a contemporary script for his Avebury-set 1977 entry, the previously unreleased Stigma, which sees an ancient blood curse seep into the present after a family asks for a fallen menhir to be removed from the garden so that they can lay a lawn. The colour red - in the family car, the daughter's fingernails, the front door, a bloody slab of beef, the cables to the electric meter - shouts its presence throughout, presaging the certain trajectory of the mother's fate as her skin weeps uncontrollably, her body and her house a conduit for ancient, unloosed forces, linking her inextricably with the place and the cycles of succession and regeneration that it claims from its inhabitants.

The final film in the 1970s incarnations of 'A Ghost Story for Christmas' was The Ice House (also previously unreleased), scripted by John Bowen (who had adapted MR James's The Treasure of Abbott Thomas for the series in 1974), who adds a subtext - satire even - on wealth and the price one pays for its isolating properties to the more familiar stylings of horror. John Stride plays the well-off man who retreats to a curious residential spa, 'a home from home' (no children - and no dogs) to take stock after being left by his wife. A place of portentous speech and stultifying formality, sparsely populated by solitary people, it reflects the character of the strange siblings - Jessica and Clovis - whose establishment it is, their bond symbolised by the vine that wreathes the mysterious ice house in the grounds. Long-term residents suffer from 'a touch of the cools', and the man's nerves begin to fray as tapped windows, broken sleep and mysteriously scored glass join his apparent hallucinations, induced by the overpowering perfume of the vine's flowers. Although he threatens to leave, it seems he knows deep down what is best for him. Jessica and Clovis certainly do.

'A Ghost Story for Christmas' was then put to be bed (for an unquiet sleep no doubt) until 2005, when it returned to the source, MR James, for his story A View from a Hill.

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