Vic’s Review – The BBC’s “Whistle and I’ll Come to You” (1968)

What’s it About?

A university professor, confident that everything which occurs in life has a rational explanation, finds his beliefs severely challenged.

“Whistle and I’ll Come to You”

Directed by Jonathan Miller

8 out of 10

By Vic

Part of BBC’s “Omnibus” series, “Whistle and I’ll Come to You” is based on the gothic novel by M.R. James named “O Whistle and I’ll come to you, My Lad.”  This gothic short is superbly directed by Jonathan Miller (Beyond The Fringe) and shot impeccably by Dick Bush who brought us the great cinematography of “Tommy – The Movie” For a film of such a brief running length it is  jam packed with mood, terror and incredible timelessness. Not to mention it is a brilliant example of how to film a tight movie of “Implied Terror” much in the vein of “The Haunting” (1963) and even more recently “The Others.”

Micheal Hordern (Ghandi, BBC’s The Lord of the Rings Radio Broadcast) plays Prof. Parkin, a very eccentric and stuffy Cambridge Teacher and academic who is vacationing on the Eastern English Coast. During one of his walks through the countryside he happens upon a unkempt graveyard that belongs to The Knights Templar. While moving about the headstones he spots a Bone Whistle and proceeds to keep it. At this point we start to see in very gothic fashion a strange figure way out on the shore looking in Parkins’ direction. Creepy stuff that is strange and very moody.

The beach sequences are shot with menace and realism but you immediately get a sense of other-wordly happenings. Once back at the Inn he examines the Whistle and notices an engraving in Latin which reads:  “Quis est iste qui venit” (“Who is this who is coming?”). He never the less blows the whistle sealing the outcome. Pretty scary. I love a mystery. Later that evening in his room he hears strange noises that keep him awake.

Hordern’s Parkins is a strange old bird.  He mutters constantly to himself. Bobs his head up and down as if he hears voices and is very methodical and stiff. At breakfast he and another man staying at the Inn get involved in a heated discussion (well, heated for 2 old British guys) about the afterlife, ghosts and spirits. Parkins shrugs off the theories about the hereafter and  dismisses it as mumbo jumbo and superstition.

An awesome quote from Parkins completely sums up his personality and trappings: “There are more things in philosophy than are dreamt of in heaven and earth.” Parkins still suffers from nightmares of some ghostly figure following him around the seashore. In a pretty creepy scene the Maids tell Parkins that all 3 of the beds in his room have been slept in despite being the only one occupying the room. He relents but investigates the phenomenon with the help of a book. What ensues is a confrontation between reality and superstition.

I highly recommend this adaptation of the M.R. James novel. It is in chilling black and white. It is economical, uncompromising and ethereal. It is also odd and eccentric.There aren’t any special effects or a blaring soundtrack that bombards your ears as a cue to jump and be scared. It is bone dry and stuffy but it works in that regard because the movie is about a man entrenched in his beliefs and is forced very quickly into accepting the supernatural.

It is beautiful to look at, has a great locale and the pace and direction by Miller and his crew crew is spot on. Check this one out gang.  It may give you the heebie jeebies. Remade with John Hurt in 2010.

7 comments

  1. I thought I was the only one that saw this. There needs to be more M.R. James stuff in America period, and this was one of a couple great British adaptations in black and white.

    • Agreed, this one and “A Warning to the Curious” were 2 very well done adaptations. I would love to see more of his work explored for TV or Film. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Promised you I’d check this out and I’m glad I did. What a very British and creepy short film this is. Have you seen the John Hurt remake? Man, that creeped me out even more (that final scene especially)

    • Have not seen the remake but will look out for it! BBC America here usually airs some great ghost stories, so I will keep an eye out. Thanks for reading my review! You are a man of your word and I appreciate you checking in and reading the review. Many thanks man! 🙂

  3. Great review Vic. I just found you through Three Rows Back! This is one of my favourite ghost stories. I watched it when I was growing up and it spooked me more than any other film ever has. We try to watch this as a family every year now as part of our Christmas ghost story marathon.

    • I am so very pleased that you found me! I visit Mark’s site quite often.

      “Whistle” is one of my favorite ghost tales as well. I admire and enjoy the work of M.R. James very much and often re-read his works through-out the year.

      As it so happens, I have a few more reviews from the BBC Omnibus series lined up to post soon including Lost Hearts, Ash Tree and Warning to the Curious, so stay tuned 🙂

      I appreciate the follow and thanks very much for your feedback on the review. It is greatly appreciated. Please visit back when you can!

      • I love those BBC ghost stories. Warning To The Curious is another of my favourites. I re-watched Ash Tree recently too – very weird. I’ll definitely be back to check out your reviews!

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