Whistle and I’ll Come to You review

Posted by Tom Paskins on December 26, 2010 in Blog, Reviews tagged with , , , ,

Whistle and I’ll Come to You, 2010.  Directed by Andy de Emmony, screenplay by Neil Cross.

Reviewed by Tom Paskins.

As a big fan of the BBC’s tradition of putting on a Ghost Story for Christmas and having been greatly impressed by Crooked House in 2008 and last year’s Turn of the Screw, it has to be said that I was awaiting their latest offering, a contemporary re-working of M.R. James’s Edwardian tale of terror, Oh Whistle and I’ll Come to you my Lad with some degree of anticipation. Particularly since it starred the ever watchable John Hurt in the central role of the character James Parkin.

The opening it has to be said was enough to make any self respecting fan of James’s short stories uneasy, and not in a good way. It is a significant departure from the original story and sees Parkin consign his wife Alice (Gemma Jones) who is suffering from a degenerative mental disease to the care of a nursing home. Hurt does an admirable job of portraying a man in emotional turmoil and Jones is equally convincing as a patient suffering from advanced dementia. I am not completely stone hearted and will admit that this sequence did tug at the old heart strings; it did however do nothing to establish that atmosphere of dread which is so essential to a story of this type.

The action then switches to an off season sea side town, which was a favourite holiday spot of the couple. We see Parkin checking himself into an Edwardian hotel and taking a ramble on a lonely stretch of the beach. The eerie atmosphere starts to set in as M.R. James’s world is re-created in front of us, although this does leave one wandering why the BBC thought it so necessary to bring the story forward into the present day. This is also where what to me seemed the biggest flaw in the whole production occurred. Instead of an old whistle, it is a ring carrying a mysterious inscription which Parkin discovers and proves to be the catalyst for the subsequent supernatural events. This effectively renders the title obsolete.

It is not without its chilling moments. There are two scenes where Parkin gets pursued across an otherwise deserted beach by a blurry figure clad entirely in white. There is another where he is disturbed in the middle of a night by a loud rattling at his bedroom door. Upon venturing out to seek assistance he discovers that he is completely alone in the hotel. All of these moments get the blood freezing nicely but they are too few and far between to really maintain interest.

Ultimately it seems that with  Whistle and I’ll come to you, script writer Neil Cross and director Andy de Emmony couldn’t decide whether they wanted to tell a ghost story or a story about a man struggling to come to terms with his own emotional turmoil. The BBC has produced successful adaptations of James’s work before. A View from a Hill (2005) and Number 13 (2006) being two such examples. Considering that Oh Whistle and I’ll come to you My Lad is one of his most famous stories it’s a pity that they had to slip up here.

Watch Whistle and I’ll come to you on BBC iplayer here. Available to watch until 9:54pm Friday, 31 December 2010.

Whistle and I\’ll come to you

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