Michael Hordern stars in this BBC adaptation of M. R. James’ classic ghost story “Oh Whistle and I’ll Come To You, My Lad”. [ONLINE TEXT]
Whistle and I’ll Come to You was produced in 1968 and originally shown as part of the BBC’s Omnibus TV series, not as part of the A Ghost Story for Christmas series—which the BBC ran in the 1970s—but people often make mistakes about this and even Amazon attributes the DVD to A Ghost Story for Christmas.
Hordern stars as a crusty college professor called Parkins, who is holidaying near the coast. Parkins is actually quite an annoying character, who is a bit of a loner, yet he still manages to be strangely endearing. At mealtimes the professor chooses not to sit at the main table with the other holidaymakers, opting instead to sit at a little table all by himself, fidgeting and looking a little uncomfortable. He is certainly not someone who could be described as ‘a people person.’
Golf appears to be a big attraction in the area, but Parkins has no interest in the game. In fact, when a fellow guest, the Colonel—who also seems to be holidaying alone—offers him a game, Parkins refuses. He chooses to take a packed lunch and go for “a good trudge” among the sand dunes instead. He even spends a little time in an old and very overgrown cemetery and, while he is there, Parkins finds an old whistle sticking out of the ground near one of the graves. “Finders keepers,” he says and stuffs the whistle into his pocket.
Later that day, back in his room at the guest house, Parkins takes out his pocket knife and begins to clean the whistle. While he is doing so he notices an inscription written on it, in Latin. He translates the words to mean: Who is this who is coming?
Who indeed? The Professor raises the whistle to his lips and blows. From that moment on Parkins is haunted by bad dreams, but that is just the start of his problems. The logical college professor discovers all too soon that there are some things that defy a rational, scientific explanation.
I enjoyed watching Whistle and I’ll Come to You. I like the dated feel of the programme—old furniture, and maids to run the bathwater for the guests; flat caps and bushy moustaches; eiderdowns and blankets instead of duvets; and curtains at the windows instead of blinds. Even a nice coal fire.
Whistle and I’ll Come to You is a dark story though. In fact, it borders on depressing at times. The scene where Professor Parkins is walking down the beach, and looks over his shoulder and sees a shadowy figure watching him, is particularly memorable and sends an unsettling cold shiver down the spine.
Whistle and I’ll Come to You probably won’t appeal to everyone. If you are the sort of person who prefers a classic ghost tale though, this is it. Look no further. Whistle and I’ll Come to You is the kind of dark, atmospheric story that gets the nerves tingling in ways that a lot of modern horror movies never will. The script is based on a good story, written by someone who was—at the time—one of the best in his field.
Michael Hordern was the perfect choice for the role of Parkins. He does an excellent job of bringing the character to life. The rest of the cast are equally good. When the script and cast are put together all of the necessary ingredients are there, so no fancy special effects were needed to spice up the mix. Modern film producers could probably learn a lot from this one. A truly great story can stand on its own and does not need a crutch of fancy technical wizardry because the magic is already there.
Whistle and I’ll Come to You (1968): Additional Details
Runtime: 42 mins
Certificate: PG (UK)
Director: Jonathan Miller
Michael Hordern … Professor Parkins
Ambrose Coghill … The Colonel
George Woodbridge … Hotel proprietor
Nora Gordon … Proprietress
Freda Dowie … Maid