“Where others had a soul, he had a corkscrew”
Mark Gatiss seems to have had a golden touch of late at the BBC which makes one wonder if he was allowed to pursue this adaptation of MR James’ ghost story as something of a vanity project, free from a more discerning critical eye that might have asked why bother. The production values of The Tractite Middoth are beyond question and the acting of a good standard, but the overall is let down by a complete clunker of a story, a nonsensical series of contrivances and convolutions that flail around ridiculously.
Young librarian William Garrett is pulled into a bitter family feud over a hidden will when a stranger arrives at his premises looking for a particularly mysterious item and as he is sucked further deeper into the intrigue, supernatural influences make it an ever-more terrifying experience, for him. Because for us, it is just silliness piled on silliness, the quest set by a wicked uncle for the two relatives who would inherit his vast estate becomes pointless in the end, there’s convenient chance meetings which keep the narrative clunking on and scary noises aplenty to remind us this is a ghost story.
Sacha Dhawan is endearing as ever as Garrett, an appealing protagonist and forming a rather fun double act with Nicholas Burns as a fellow academic. Una Stubbs makes a random but entertaining cameo and there’s huge hamminess from Eleanor Bron’s housekeeper and Roy Barraclough’s chief librarian. In the spirit of unchallenging Christmas watching, it all fits together rather well, but it is hard not to feel a little disappointed in the result and I doubt that ‘silly but fun’ was what they were aiming for…