TV Review: A Ghost Story for Christmas – The Mezzotint

Mark Gatiss adapts MR James’ The Mezzotint for a well cast ghostly Christmas treat

“We’ve enough tat here as it is”

Festive programming seems to have gone a little haywire these days, or maybe its just the nostalgia kicking in after too many chocolate biscuits. Where’s the new Box of Delights eh? The BBC are leading with a sex scandal and have also turned to Mark Gatiss for a touch of horror for the season, with a new adaptation of MR James’ The Mezzotint, the fourth in their A Ghost Story for Christmas strand.

Perfectly contained at under 30 minutes, it is a highly effective piece of storytelling, tautly directed by Gatiss himself. Rory Kinnear’s Edward Williams is a curator at a local museum and a confirmed bachelor, whiling the hours away with games of golf and researching the more shadowy corners of his family history. But when a mezzotint engraving of an unidentified manor house falls into his hands, he can’t begin to imagine what it might reveal.

For everytime someone looks at it (Emma Cunniffe’s vivid housekeeper, John Hopkins’ plus-foured-up pal), they seem to see something slightly different, something increasingly creepy. And as Williams edges closer to the scandalous truth of his possibly illegitimate great grandfather with the help of Frances Barber’s scene-chewing Mrs Ambrigail, a tragic story and a shocking revelation is determined to unfurl. 

By all accounts, Gatiss has fiddled with the original story a bit but his interventions integrate most smoothly, heightening the emotional stakes and the effectiveness of the scares as they threaten to crawl out of the screen at you. Blair Mowat’s music has a lot to do with establishing the brilliantly haunting mood and who knew, maybe we really do want a ghost story for Christmas.

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