Monday, 4 May 2009

No digging


East Anglia is an area of great beauty, but it is not a beauty of rolling hills and lush vegetation – it is a stark, washed-out and lonely beauty, where the dividing lines between land, sea and sky are sometimes blurred and the past is ever present in a landscape that has not significantly changed for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years.

There is a myth that the eastern coast of England is protected from invasion by three crowns, buried a thousand years ago. The story runs that whilst at least one of them remains under the ground, East Anglia, and Britain, will be safe. ‘A Warning To The Curious’, one of the excellent BBC ‘A Ghost Story For Christmas’ series that originally ran from 1971 to 1978 (and has recently been revived), starts with the premise that only one crown remains, and that its safety is guarded by tradition and superstition so strong that it can extend beyond the grave.

Paxton (the sharp faced Peter Vaughan) is an unemployed clerk and an amateur archaeologist who is both obsessed with the ancient myth and increasingly desperate for money. Spurred on by information he has found in an ancient book, he makes his way to the quiet coastal village of Seaburg to begin the search for the remaining crown. Unhappily for him, he finds it…

Filmed on videotape, and with a minimal soundtrack of the sea, seagulls, crows, the wind and some muted electronics and strings, this short (50 minutes) film is a masterful example of clever people (Lawrence Gordon Clark adapted, produced and directed) making clever television for a sophisticated audience. Yes, it is a ghost story, but there are no white-sheeted spooks here or creaking floorboards: most of the supernatural activity takes place outside, during the day, in the bleak, flat East Anglian countryside, and is all the more disturbing for it.

‘A Warning to the Curious’ is an unsettling tale of unnerving simplicity. It moves slowly and matter-of-factly and despite a few genuinely shocking moments, prefers to create its effect by presenting a disquieting atmosphere that evokes a sort of low-grade fear in the viewer that grows into an oppressive feeling of quiet panic as the story slowly unfolds. I, of course, love that feeling, and actively seek it out, and I thoroughly recommend this film to anyone else that likes to feel scared and uneasy in their own home.

You can start to get the fear by listening to some low-quality audio snippets I have compiled here.

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