The story is set on the Norfolk coast, where there is a legend about the three golden crowns of Anglia, which were hidden in the ground during the dark ages to keep them safe from marauding Vikings. The crowns were believed to have strange powers and as long as at least one of them remained undisturbed no foreign army would be able to invade the kingdom of Anglia. Since that time one of the crowns has been plundered and melted down and another has been covered by the encroaching sea. Only one remains.
This story is about the people who come looking for the crown and, more accurately, what happens to them when they do. In the opening sequence, a man is shown digging in the woods. As he digs the wind begins to get up and starts blowing through the ferns. The man turns around and sees a fearsome-looking individual dressed in black is watching him. “No digging ‘ere,” the stranger says. “What do you mean no digging here?” the other replies. “I have permission. from the landlord.” This statement does little to pacify the man in black, who takes matters into his own hands.
Twelve years later another man arrives by train, bringing a shovel with him and not giving the impression of someone who intends to build a few sand castles. The man, Mr Paxton, is played by Peter Vaughan who some viewers might remember for his portrayal of Grouty in the TV series Porridge. Paxton books into the local inn, borrows a bicycle, and then rides off in search of the crown.
The vicar informs Paxton that the locals still take the legend very seriously and he mentions a local family who was supposed to know where the crown was buried. In times of war, the oldest male would watch to ensure that the crown was not disturbed. During the four years of the Great War the last surviving member of the family was so obsessed with protecting the crown that he haunted the area night and day until, in the end, he succumbed to consumption and died, still worrying that there was no one to succeed him. “Does anyone know where he watched?” Paxton asks. “If they do, they don’t tell,” says the vicar. “I’m not a native, you see. I’ve only lived here twenty years.”
Paxton remains very focused on his ambition to find the crown and in the end, he learns where he needs to dig, only to discover that the crown is not as without protection as he had thought.
A Warning to the Curious might be a little slow moving for some viewers’ tastes, but I enjoyed it immensely. There is some nice scenery and I liked the little inn that Paxton stayed in. It looked very peaceful. The story has some genuinely scary moments too, as you would expect from something unleashed from the pen of M. R. James. Even a truly brilliant story can be spoilt by a poor cast though. Fortunately, that has not happened in this case and A Warning to the Curious is just a spooky on-screen as it is on the written page.