Whistle And I’ll Come To You Review: Grieve Christmas

WHISTLE AND I’LL COME TO YOU: Christmas Eve, BBC2, 9pm ALERT ME

In recognition that audiences will be as bloated by saccharine Yuletide entertainment as they will by their Christmas dinners, the BBC have served up a nice antidote to sentimentality in Whistle and I’ll Come To You, an imperfect, but sufficiently intriguing, Gothic ghost story of memory, loss and confronting retirement and old age.

Having put his wife, Alice (Gemma Jones), in a nursing home, James Parkin (John Hurt), a retired astronomer, decides to revisit their youth and returns to a hotel they once stayed in. Once there, James’s finds a mysterious wedding band and begins to witness strange goings-on; the sound of finger nails scratching at the wooden floor; a mysterious guest banging their fists on his door; and unnaccounted-for noises in the middle of the night. Are these ‘ghosts’ or the demons of guilt who have risen to torment his guilty conscience?

Being completely ignorant of its original source material, I was spared the disappointment that many other critics have expressed in regard to its lack of faith to the Burns poem and, in turn, the M R James story it subsequently inspired. However, there is undeniably a lack of edge to Whistle and I’ll Come To You, and the writers all too complacently rely on tired generic tropes of the psychological-horror genre in unsuccessful bids to send chills down spines.

The problem at the heart of the drama is an over reliance on its aesthetic and atmosphere to provide all the scares of which there are none. There is also a curious indifference to character development, James’s previous career as an astronomer left completely unexplored, his profession randomly plucked to establish a conflict between the supernatural and a belief in the material world. The most we learn about James is when he philosophises aloud, “When it comes to love, the universe is oddly profligate”. After that, it’s all facial expression and subtle hints of theramin.

Unfortunately, despite John Hurt’s terrific screen presence, Whistle and I’ll Come To You is deployed with such a lack of invention that most audiences will anticipate the majority of ‘scares’ and its rather obvious climax. It’s akin to listening to a joke which you already know the punchline to: when the moment arrives, it’s just not that funny. In this case, it’s just not that frightening.

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