Country: UNITED KINGDOM
Original Broadcast Date - 24/12/1971
The chilling short story The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral first appeared in M. R. James’ 1911 collection More Ghost Stories, and was chosen by writer/producer/director Lawrence Gordon Clark as the curtain raiser to what would become eight consecutive ghost stories broadcast by the BBC at Christmas between 1971 and 1978. The path had already been trod to some degree by Jonathan Miller, who had written and directed an adaptation of James’ Whistle and I’ll Come to You, in 1968, for the BBC’s Omnibus. Such is the success of Miller’s effort that it is often erroneously considered a part of the A Ghost Story for Christmas series. Although The Stalls of Barchester does not quite reach the heights of its predecessor (which benefits tremendously from its monochrome palette and the beautifully observed performance of Michael Horden) it does have numerous merits of its own. The muted and purposefully under lit cinematography of John McGlashan for example offers an indication that the filmmakers were thinking with black and white in mind, though the delicate candle lit study of Archdeacon Haynes (Robert Hardy), his bedroom, and the eerie cloisters of Barchester Cathedral generates its own peculiar atmosphere of unease. Clark utilises off screen space particularly well, with the menacing visitations of something supernatural existing at the extreme periphery of the frame, and only emerging in the briefest glimpses of a black cat, and most disturbingly of all, a grey lifeless hand with frighteningly sharp talons.