Blu-Ray Review: Ghost Stories for Christmas: Volume 1

There’s something very persuasive about a traditional ghost story. Tales which may have been initially spoken around a campfire. Passed down from generation to generation. Each country, and regions within those nations, have their own legends and folklore. While these are inherited through word of mouth, they’re often augmented and adapted by the minds of imaginative authors.

Britain is no exception and the king of the sub-genre was undoubtedly M.R. James. Unlike many of his peers, he eschewed historical Gothic settings. Instead, his stories take place in recognisable locations, usually featured a bumbling eccentric and some colourful locals. First broadcast in 1971, Ghost Stories for Christmas brought an imagining of a traditional spooky tale to TV for the festive season. In the first volume of this collection, the BFI bring together four recently restored versions of the perennial favourites.

Whistle and I’ll Come to You

A fussy Cambridge Professor arrives for a seaside holiday at a hotel on the east coast of England. On one of his daily walks along the dunes he finds a whistle in a graveyard. Blowing it changes his life. Possibly the most famous of the BBC collection, Jonathan Miller creates an unsettling atmosphere throughout. Michael Hordern is perfect as the eccentric intellectual who slowly loses his mind.

The Stalls of Barchester

The first episode in the series follows Dr Shaw (Clive Swift) as he’s cataloguing the library of Barchester Cathedral. He discovers an old diary which details the death of a former Archdeacon (Robert Hardy) fifty years ago, becoming aware of a strange curse. Lawrence Gordon Clark has a whale of a time playing tricks on the mind.  

A Warning to the Curious

Paxton (Peter Vaughan) arrives at a Victorian seaside resort in search of a legend. The archaeologist’s research points to the existence of an Anglo-Saxon crown, but discovering it awakes something unexpected. Dr Shaw (Swift) makes another appearance in this mysterious and unsettling adaptation, which uses the coastal setting beautifully.

Lost Hearts

A young orphan (Simon Gipps-Kent) is sent to stay with his elderly cousin, Mr Abney (Joseph O’Conor). The older man is a budding alchemist who is obsessed with discovering the secret of immortality. Do the boy’s nightmares suggest something more sinister? Lawrence Gordon Clark’s third M.R.James’ ghost story plays with reality to create an unsettling and disturbing tale.


  • Newly remastered by the BFI and presented in High Definition (Limited Edition)
  • Newly recorded audio commentaries for Whistle and I’ll Come to You (1968) and A Warning to the Curious by TV historian Jon Dear
  • Newly recorded audio commentaries for The Stalls of Barchester and Lost Hearts by Kim Newman and Sean Hogan
  • Whistle and I’ll Come to You (2010, 52 mins): John Hurt stars in this 2010 interpretation of MR James’s chilling tale
  • Jonathan Miller and Christopher Frayling interview (2012, 3 mins)
  • Neil Brand reads MR James’s original story (2001, 42 mins, audio only)
  • Ramsey Campbell on MR James (2001, 16 mins)
  • Ramsey Campbell reads The Guide (2001, 27 mins)
  • Introductions by Lawrence Gordon Clark (2012, 33 mins total): the director of seven of the BBC’s classic A Ghost Story For Christmas episodes discusses his part in the first three instalments he directed
  • Ghost Stories For Christmas with Christopher Lee (2000, 60 mins total): BBC Scotland’s ‘talking-head horror’ series starring the iconic actor as an MR James-like raconteur of fireside Christmas ghost stories. Included on this release are The Stalls of Barchester and A Warning to the Curious

Ghost Stories for Christmas: Volume 1 is released on Blu-ray by the BFI on 5 December.

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