UK TV review: A Ghost Story for Christmas: The Mezzotint
James R | On 24, Dec 2021
The words “Mark Gatiss” are enough to send a shiver up your spine on Christmas Eve, after his string of horror stories for the BBC over the years. Once again, he turns to MR James for their chilling short, which tells the story of a disturbing painting.
Rory Kinnear stars as Edward Williams, a professor in 1922 who receives an engraving of a county house from his dealer. Initially dismissing it as grotesque, it’s only once he shows the painting to his friends Garwood (Robert Bathurst) and Nisbet (Nikesh Patel) that they begin to notice other, subtler details. There’s moonlight as well as the imposing exterior. There’s a lawn with space. And, just in the corner, a tiny hand.
Soon enough, things to begin to change and maybe even move, and things get darker and more severe the more they keep gazing at it. The very act of looking is at the heart of what makes The Mezzotint so wonderfully effective, and Gatiss’ trick is to keep things as simple as possible – like Inside No 9 from his League Gentlemen compatriots, this half-hour tale knows not to extend its runtime beyond what’s needed.
With a talented cast – all of them excellent at appearing perplexed and unnerved – the result is tense and taut, as it invites it to keep staring closer with each passing second. It’s a tiny festive offering built on small details, and the closer you look, the bigger their impact becomes. A wonderfully atmospheric treat for late night Christmas Eve viewing.
A Ghost Story for Christmas: The Mezzotint is available on BBC iPlayer until 16th January 2023