Sunday, December 22, 2013

The BBC Goes Not Nittel on Christmas

Here in England, I meet up with Judaism's ghost.

Ghost story, that should be:

Mark Gatiss’s dramatisation of The Tractate Middoth (BBC2) by...MR James. Don’t let the title put you off: this is a terrifying story of a haunting in a library. 


Gatiss's adaptation of James's spine-tingling tale will air on BBC2 at 9:30pm on Christmas Day, followed at 10:05pm by MR James: Ghost Writer, a documentary about the revered master of discomfiture, which Gatiss will front...[Sacha] Dhawan, meanwhile, appears...[i]n The Tractate Middoth, he plays a young library assistant drawn into the supernatural world surrounding an obscure Hebrew text, 

A Talmudic text on Christmas?

The scenario is simple. A rich, diabolically misanthropic clergyman has surrounded himself with ancient books. He has a “soul like a corkscrew”. He has two possible heirs – one, John, he hates; the other, a harmless widow with a daughter, he despises. As he dies, he resorts to mortmain (“the hand of the dead”), the will that outlasts the body. His vast property he leaves, by one will, to his male heir. A later will leaves everything to the heiress. Yet he has secreted the revised will in an ancient and particularly sinister [???] book: The Tractate Middoth. He has donated this to a rare book library – but which one? And, if it is found (which, 20 years later, it is), what dark forces will theTractate release?Gatiss makes confident changes to his source text. He moves the main action from the Edwardian period to the 1950s. He introduces characters, a deathbed scene (which James might have thought a trifle heavy-handed) and Doctor Who-style visual effects. He makes the young hero a jaunty Cambridge undergraduate, not a beaten-down assistant librarian. It all works, although for those who love the story it jolts a bit.Two things combine to make the M R James story as perfect in its “movement” as a Swiss watch: brevity and a feather-light touch.

Just two comments.

1.  Tractate Middoth is not all that obscure or sinister. 

2.  On Christmas, there is a custom not to learn Torah.  And Christmas Eve is called 'Nittel' Nacht.  More here.


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