A View From A Hill (2005 United Kingdom)

In the 1970s the BBC used to include a ghost story, usually by Dickens or M.R. James, in their Christmas schedules. They dropped the habit later on, but this millennium saw them reboot the series again from time to time. Here is one of the better examples. Directed by Luke Watson, this goes back to the series’ roots; the period setting instantly lends itself a quality and timeless feel, meaning it’s very hard to pin point and define exactly when it was made.

It tells the story of Dr Fanshawe (Mark Letheren) a specialist who comes down to the moribund country estate of Squire Richards (Pip Torrens) to evaluate some archaeological material. When he breaks his own binoculars, he is given an old pair that somehow enable him to see the local abbey, though it has been a ruin since the time of Henry VIII. He ends up in trouble in a most unexpected way, an experience that, as we see at the end, leaves a lasting impression on him. It’s a fairly simple story and the film’s running time is a mere 40 minutes.

But it is surprisingly substantial and gives a rewarding television experience. Good acting helps – Letheren and Torrens are both well cast, and ably supported by David Burke as the Squire’s pleasingly dour manservant. The music is good too and there’s a kind of dream sequence in the abbey that really carries you along. The Autumn countryside provides oodles of atmosphere, the falling leaves and low lying sun providing an unsettling backdrop for the sinister events to come. This is subtle horror. The overt physicality of some of the ghosts in the 1970’s series have been given a sharp turn around with the ghost exerting that typical corner of the eye feeling occasionally missing in even the best of the early series.

The house does not contain any particular spectre but allows the viewer to see into the past, beside Doctor Fanshawe, as he becomes fascinated by an old Cathedral. And the idea behind the binoculars is simple but very effective: the use of a man-made object to see supernatural beings and events that the naked eye cannot see, may even have influenced Álex de la Iglesia in his film La habitación del niño (2006) of the following year, with which it bears striking similarity. A View From A Hill not only provides a fresh look at one of James’ more simple stories but also rights some of the mistakes made in the crude 1970s adaptations. Plenty of time is given, even within its brief 40 minutes for character development and plot expansion and I must say its a favourite of mine and certainly one of the better TV films of its time. 🙂

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Comments

  1. Thanks for the review! Sounds right up my alley, will be adding it to my to-watch list immediately.

    Liked by 1 person

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