My Photos
boffo01's photos More of boffo01's photos

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Lost Hearts

I watched Lost Hearts last night. Impressive stuff. A warning to the curious: spoilers will follow.

Lost Hearts was the third of the classic "A Ghost Story for Christmas" series that ran annually throughout the seventies ('71-'78 to be precise) and has – quite thankfully to my mind – been resurrected over the past few years.

Predominantly MR James adaptations, the specials have a particularly British feel, set originally by director Lawrence Gordon Clark, who handled all but one of the seventies run of productions. Playing to the period strengths of British drama, the shows have a deliberartely slow-paced, melancholic feel. Score is minimal, with long scenes of silent refelction as characters wander about the English countryside, all the while creating a sense of isolation and menace. Something of a nostalgic gem for any Brit my age, the shows are all new to me, have never seen them to my memory on NZ television.

Lost hearts is the story of Stephen, an orphan, who is taken in by a kindly old scholar (who has an unfortunate tendency to over-gurn just a little in his quest for ultimate truths) who happens to be – apparently – his second cousin twice removed, or some such. From the get-go there’s something a bit sinister going on. Stephen sees two children out in the fields waving to him as he arrives; children who then vanish as abruptly as they first appeared. And as for kind Mr Abney, well, there’s something not quite right with him.

Maybe it’s the modern sensibility, but he smacks of sweetie-bearing kiddie-fiddler immediately. And as you discover more about him, about the other children he has taken in before (complete with disturbing flashbacks reminiscient of some kind of Victorianised public service announcement television campaign) and about their subsequent disappearance the feeling only deepens.

In fact, by the time you discover that he’s cutting out the children’s hearts, burning them to ash and mixing them with port in order to secure eternal life through dark magicks, there’s a sensation that’s something like relief.


All that aside, the slow reveal of Abney as the villain of the piece is wonderfully done. It’s obvious from early on that he’s a bit off, but step by step he’s revealed as being something of a wrong ‘un in a completely unsensational way. No startling revelations, just matter-of-fact instances of him studying old texts, or approaching children by the river bank, or unsheathing his sacrificial dagger (as it were). Even a quick glance around his study reveals him as the not-typical English gentleman philanthropist:

And then there’s the children.

Have you seen Salem’s Lot? The original tele-movie directed by Tobe Hooper? If so, you know the scene I’m about to mention. Where the kid floats up to the window and scratches at the pane, begging to be let in and you wet your pants? Yeah, that one.

Coincidence? Probably. Or probably just drawing from the same sources. Either way, the handling of these eerie child ghosts is brilliant.

From their creepy, swaying gait as they move to the tune of the dead boy's hurdy-gurdy to their rigor mortis expressions, they are never less than spine-tingling and often downright terrifying.

Clark nails it. Scary ghost kids are often undone once they make a full appearance, usually due to the fact that they are played

Not here. The limited range of expression and movement they have enhances the feeling that, yes, they are dead. And that's horrible.

At just under 35 minutes, Lost Hearts is a little gem. A classic English ghost story told in a compelling and effective manner.

The fact that it still retains the ability to evoke a creeping uneasiness says something of its quality and of the skill of its director. Highly recommended.



  1. Great post. I've been thinking alot about how to write this creepy british television vibe. The screen grabs here evoke it brilliantly.

  2. Hmm I wonder if the new movie made in the UK will be anything like this one.
    A boy named Leo plays the frightened boy but I can't seem to fine this new movie anywhere.

  3. Anonymous11:33 pm

    Lost Hearts celebrates its 40th Anniversary (!) on Christmas Day, 2013 and even now, all those years later, it still thrills.

    The excellent portrayal of Stephen was done by then 15-year-old Simon Gipps-Kent who unfortunately passed away in 1987 at age 28.

    There is more of him at: