Friday, September 12, 2014

Classic Ghost Stories: Wailing Well – review

Director: David Bell

First aired: 1986

Contains spoilers

Wailing Well was one of the shorts written by master of the ghost story M R James and, as such, you might wonder why I am looking at it here? Well, despite the V word not being mentioned there is definitely a vampiric element to this tale and it was adapted for television in the short BBC series Classic Ghost Stories.

The series aired in 1986 and was narrated by Robert Powell. Each episode was essentially Powell telling the story, with occasional scenes of actors in some. This did not have the acted moments at all, rather it had a few photographs of a boy scout troop and one particular scout, Stanley Judkins.

Stanley Judkins
Judkins is a miscreant but is at camp. The map that the scouts have shows a copse of trees and brambles, in a field, with a red ring drawn around it – an area forbidden to the boys. Looking at it, in the distance, Judkins begins to wonder and a passing shepherd tells them that it is wailing well a place avoided by all. The scouts can see that the field has tracks through it and the shepherd confirms that they would belong to a certain three men and a woman – no-one knows who they were but they were bad ‘uns, when they were alive.

Robert Powell
Of course, the next day, Judkins goes to the forbidden field and the boys (with a scout master) see him stalked by strange skeletal figures, who eventually get Judkins in their grip. The scout master returns with the body of the boy, cut down from a branch where he was found hanging, and, “There was not a drop of blood in the body.” Vampiric enough, but more so when we hear that from that day onwards the field was haunted by three men, a woman and a boy.

The story is a classic – of that there is no doubt – and Powell a masterful story teller. As a piece of TV, however, I would have much preferred to have seen visual representation of the events also. However, it is what it is and delights for 15 minutes. 7 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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