Mark Gatiss promises a ghostly Christmas on BBC Four as he plays the curator in Crooked House (pictured here with Lee Ingleby, who plays Ben)
Crooked House – The Wainscoting
Crooked House – Something Old
Crooked House – The Knocker
Crooked House Special
BBC Four promises a ghostly Christmas this year with Crooked House, a haunting tale of three spine-chilling ghost stories, woven together for a spooky festive treat, written by and starring Mark Gatiss. Crooked House, which is shot in HD, features a wonderfully diverse cast, including Julian Rhind-Tutt, Philip Jackson, Lee Ingleby, Jean Marsh, Samuel Barnett, Daniela Denby-Ashe, Anna Madeley and, in his debut dramatic role, illusionist Derren Brown.
Derren Brown says of his guest appearance in Crooked House: "Mark Gatiss is a friend and I've always been a huge fan of his work. He offered me a suitably small role in a really fun project, and I was both honoured and nervous. I really don't do very much in it and I'm desperately hoping what little I do contribute isn't going to be too excruciating when set against proper actors with actual talent. I doubt very much that this is the start of an acting career, just a fun and flattering opportunity to have taken part in a very well-written and beautifully filmed piece."
Mark Gatiss, who also co-produces the drama, takes the role of a museum curator with an in-depth knowledge of the history of the fictional Geap Manor. Here, Gatiss tells Programme Information about how he's fulfilled a lifelong ambition and how he managed to persuade his friend, Derren Brown, to appear in the drama, complete with a false nose.
What can you tell us
about Crooked House?
"Crooked House began life as a single, 30-minute ghost story. However, BBC Four were keen to turn it into more of an "event", so I chanced my arm and pitched three! This not only gave me the chance to write some ghost stories for Christmas – a lifelong ambition – but, by joining the three together in a 90-minute version, to pay tribute to the portmanteau-style horror films which I adore."
What are the three individual
stories and how are they interweaved?
"Lee Ingleby plays a schoolteacher who has found an ancient door-knocker in his garden. The local museum curator (whom I play) believes the knocker came from a now-demolished Tudor house: Geap Manor, a place with a ghostly reputation. Intrigued, Ben asks if there are any 'juicy stories' to be told. There are! The first is The Wainscoting – a Georgian story which concerns self-made man Joseph Bloxham Esq (Philip Jackson), who has used his ill-gotten gains to buy the old house. He pays no heed to the warnings of his friends, Noakes (Julian Rhind-Tutt) and Duncalfe (Andy Nyman), and soon finds something very nasty lurking in the walls.
"The second story, Something Old, moves forward to the Twenties, where, at the Manor, a lavish costume ball is being thrown. Young Felix de Momery (Ian Hallard) announces his engagement to Ruth (Jennifer Higham), much to the chagrin of his grandmother (Jean Marsh) and his friends, Billy (Samuel Barnett) and Katherine (Anna Madeley). The happy couple's destiny seems to be inextricably linked with another tragic wedding day and a ghostly bride who stalks the corridors.
"Finally, in The Knocker, Ben himself discovers that, though demolished, Geap Manor casts a long shadow. Recently split from his girlfriend (Daniela Denby-Ashe), he finds the cosy blandness of his modern house rudely violated by events from the distant past, and by the sinister figure of Sir Roger Widdowson (Derren Brown)."
What was your inspiration
for the story?
"I've always loved ghost stories and, as a child, I was particularly enthralled by Lawrence Gordon Clark's classic Seventies adaptations for the BBC. Christmas and ghosts go together so well! In terms of the individual stories, I gravitated towards the time periods of which I am fondest. And in the case of The Knocker, it was directly inspired by a Maori death mask which I bought from a flea market in Paris. It was an amazing, sinister thing and I came to believe it wanted to go home. I repatriated it through the New Zealand embassy and was very glad to see the back of it!"
What's your favourite
festive ghost story and why?
"It's an obvious answer but A Christmas Carol, which is my favourite story full-stop. It's an astonishingly relevant and powerful story of redemption, which has an undeserved reputation for sentimentality. I re-read it every year at Christmas-time and it never fails to thrill me. In addition, Jacob Marley remains one of my dream parts to play."
How did you persuade
Derren Brown to take part?
"Derren is a friend of mine and a natural actor. I thought it would be fun to offer him the small cameo of Sir Roger Widdowson as a change from putting the 'fluence on the nation. He had a great time, especially with his false nose."
How does it feel to
be so involved in a project – writing, co-producing and starring
"Crooked House has been a fantastic, collaborative effort, in particular with Damon Thomas, the director. We first worked together last year on The Worst Journey In The World, and formed an immediate rapport. Crooked House has been such a passion project for me, I couldn't imagine not seeing it through from beginning to end."
Is this the first time
you've filmed in HD? Does it make a difference when you're actually
making a film? Are you pleased with the results?
"The League Of Gentlemen's Apocalypse was the first time I'd worked in HD and, in four short years, the technology has come on in leaps and bounds. All sorts of new opportunities present themselves, not least the time and budgetary restrictions of a BBC Four drama, which certainly sharpen the wits! I think the film looks fantastic, thanks to Director of Photography Ian Moss and his team."