Saturday 1 November 2014

Whistle and I'll come to you

A day late for Hallowe'en, but here's the astonishing Whistle and I'll come to you.

Jonathan Miller directed this adaptation of M.R. James's ghost story for the BBC in 1968. I've never seen anything on the telly half as good. Do watch it, and be frightened out of your wits. Then raise a glass to the great, the very great, Michael Hordern (who looks rather like, and has a name that sounds very like, Auden). What a performance! Whether insinuating himself into a hotel dining room, dispatching a grapefruit, chumbling philosophically over steamed haddock or striding along a bleak Norfolk beach he entirely inhabits the role of a self-absorbed, rather pompous academic - just look at the way he handles his books.

One of these is by the philosopher F. H. Bradley and it looks like it might be Appearance and Reality (1893). Hordern, hermetically intellectual, snorts at Bradley's contention that  that most ordinary things (time and space, causation, the self, objects and their qualities) are only appearances while reality is the Absolute, a cosmic phenomenon of which we are all part. None of which particularly matters because the story is simply about a bright pragmatic chap confronting the inexplicable and being completely dismantled by the experience.

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