Starring: Albert Finney, Michael Hordern, Josie Lawrence
Lovers of well-turned tales of the supernatural will want to snap up the long-awaited DVD release of this BBC three-parter from 1990, adapted by Malcolm Bradbury from Kingsley Amis’ excellent novel. Albert Finney delivers a flamboyant turn as Maurice, the boozy, lecherous proprietor of an up-market Cambridgeshire coaching inn whose reputation for being haunted is just a gimmick for entertaining the guests … until, that is, Maurice starts seeing ghosts himself. Not that this shock to the system stops him trying to bed Diana (Sarah Berger), the wife of the local GP.
Early on in proceedings, director Elijah Moshinsky replaces the subtle chills of Amis’ source novel with some rather more obvious scares, but on the whole the series does a marvellous job of capturing the book’s delicious mix of old dark house mystery and sex farce, its counterbalancing of high-spirited banter and bed-hopping with night terrors and thoughts of mortality. Amis’ clever, Nigel Kneale-like deployment of dusty background documents is also preserved intact, as are the novel’s wonderful setpieces, such as Maurice’s comical attempts to get his wife and mistress into bed together on the afternoon of his father’s funeral.
Shot on film, the series isn’t short of spooky cinematic flourishes and some surprisingly decent monster FX, and the whole thing is brilliantly carried by Finney, who gives such a multifaceted, full-blooded performance that you can’t help wishing he’d done more telly work rather than settling into a career of movie cameos. By the way, when the series was originally aired, some critics thought they detected a resemblance between Maurice and Basil Fawlty, but in anything it was Amis’ novel which influenced John Cleese. The DVD transfer is a little soft and scratchy, but this is still an unmissable treat for ghost story aficionados. 10/10