Preview: The Tractate Middoth (BBC2)

Posted on December 23, 2013 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Tractate Middoth

In the UK: Christmas Day, 9.30pm, BBC2

I’ve raved on many occasions about the BBC’s Christmas Ghost Stories, most of which were written by MR James. There have been various attempts over the years, mostly by BBC4, to resurrect the idea. Now BBC2 is giving it another go – mostly at the instigation of Doctor Who and Sherlock writer (and mega MR James fanboy) Mark Gatiss.

And marvellously, it’s going out on Christmas Day. Here’s a gothic BBC2 trailer:

Plot
The chilling story of Dr Rant, whose wicked streak continues from beyond the grave. Based on the festive ghost story by MR James.

When a relative comes to find a particular book at the university library, young student Garrett is drawn into a family feud over a will and its legacy - with terrifying consequences.

Is any good?
It’s actually pretty good. The adaptation has been changed somewhat from the original. As well as being relocated in time from the Victorian era to the 1950s, a rationale for the ‘entity’s’ actions is given. There’s also some surprising and largely inappropriate humour that would have been more suitable for Gatiss’s The League of Gentlemen days. But on balance, it does the job.

The cast is largely good, with Sacha Dhawan (Gatiss’s An Adventure in Time and Space) excellent as the unexpectedly adventurous but wide-eyed librarian; John Castle (I, Claudius) is equally excellent as his inadvertent nemesis. Being a Gatiss effort – it’s also his directorial debut – there’s also a bunch of totally expected pieces of casting: Louise Jameson (Leela in Doctor Who, but also from Gatiss’s P.R.O.B.E.); Una Stubbs from Sherlock; and compulsory Northerner and unwelcome source of comedy Roy Barraclough.

However, for a first effort, it’s actually very good, Gatiss wisely opting to do virtually everything, including the ‘entity’ in-camera rather than as CGI. There are also some genuinely scary moments, which is surely the first qualification of any ghost story. It never quite hits either the tone or the eeriness of the 70s stories, but it’s good enough that I hope that it’s the first of many new ones.

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