The Signalman (1976)

TV Short  |   |  Drama, Horror, Short
7.8
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A lonely Signalman is visited by a stranger.

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(story), (adaptation)
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Cast

Complete credited cast:
...
The Signalman
Bernard Lloyd ...
The Traveller
Reginald Jessup ...
The Engine Driver
Carina Wyeth ...
The Bride
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Storyline

For this the sixth of the BBC's "A Ghost Story for Christmas" series we are presented with an adaptation of a Charles Dickens story rather than one by M.R. James. A traveler (Bernard Lloyd) sees a railway signalman (Denholm Elliott) in a lonely location. The signal box is situated between two steep sided hills close to the entrance to a tunnel. The traveler, shielding his eyes from the glare of the sun with one arm, waves to the signalman and cries out "Hallo, Below There". But he is puzzled when the railway worker not only does not reply to him but actually seems to be afraid of him. When the traveler reassures him that there is nothing to fear about him, the signalman welcomes the stranger into his signal box and begins to tell him a remarkable story. Written by Mark_a_Wood <markawood@hotmail.co.uk>

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Genres:

Drama | Horror | Short

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Release Date:

22 December 1976 (UK)  »

Also Known As:

Ghost Story for Christmas: The Signalman  »

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Did You Know?

Goofs

In one shot, a type of wire fence is seen that was not used until after WW2. See more »

Connections

Version of Suspense: The Signal Man (1953) See more »

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User Reviews

 
"Hello, down there!"
18 November 2008 | by (Australia) – See all my reviews

The more "Ghost Stories for Christmas" I watch, the more I'm convinced that they constitute some of the horror genre's finest additions. Filmed on modest budgets, these 40-minute short films for television were produced annually by the BBC between 1971 and 1978. Most were adapted from classic M.R. James short stories, but 'The Signalman (1976)' was notably adapted (very faithfully) from a Charles Dickens tale, which is available in an audio reading on the British Film Institute DVD. Directed by Lawrence Gordon Clark, this creepy ghost story is subtle, haunting and atmospheric, the perfect film with which to share company on a cold and lonely winter night. Just like 'A Warning to the Curious (1972)' and 'Whistle and I'll Come to You (1968)' {from a different series, but in the same vein}, this modest British chiller knows all the delicate tricks that can make the unknown seem like the most terrifying thing of all. I can't wait to track down some more of these wonderful short films.

Set in the nineteenth century, the story revolves around an adventurous traveller (Bernard Lloyd) who happens upon the post of an eccentric railway signalman (Denholm Elliott, later of 'Indiana Jones' fame). The Signalman recounts the story of a mysterious spectre that has been haunting him this past year, appearing alongside the "danger light" – one arm across his face, the other waving ominously – at the entrance to the train tunnel, uttering the haunting words of warning, "Hello, down there! Clear the way!" These apparition have, on two occasions, been swiftly followed by a railway tragedy, the most unspeakable of which was a head-on collision between two locomotives in the tunnel, where the flames and smoke swiftly stifled the cries of many survivors. The Traveller tries to rationalise these tales, putting the phantom down to an optical ailment, but the Signalman is not to be convinced. The otherwise-judicious traveller is haunted by the lingering image of this apparition, and, by the film's end, he is left wondering if the Signalman might have been sane, after all.

Lloyd and Elliott, who basically occupy the entire screen time between them, are both excellent in the main roles, communicating strong personalities than remain in the mind. Andrew Davies' screenplay is fine, but most credit should be bestowed upon a certain Mr. Charles Dickens, whose graceful writing moulds such complex characterisations, even with so few words, that the Traveller and the Signalman were already extraordinarily fleshed-out protagonists. Unlike 'A Warning to the Curious,' which deviated considerably from the M.R. James story on which it was based, 'The Signalman' is largely very faithful to its source material, and, indeed, much of the dialogue is retained. The only major difference is that, in the story, the Signalman's delusions are only narrated second-hand, and so the man's insanity is constantly brought into question – was there really a ghost, or was he just crazy? Television being a visual medium, the viewer is able to witness these frightening apparitions himself. This technique removes a bit of the ambiguity, but also achieves a heightened degree of terror.


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