Lot No.249 - Kit Harrington as Smith & James Swanton as The Mummy

A Ghost Story for Christmas: Lot No.249 – the cast and director speak

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This year, BBC Two once again brings us A Ghost Story for Christmas – Lot No.249. 

There’s nothing quite like having the wits scared out of you at Christmastime! The BBC used to make these films in the 1970s and revived the fine tradition in 2010.

2023’s festive frightener is once again adapted by Mark Gatiss. Lot No.249 comes from short story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and described as “an end-of-Empire chiller.

Lot No. 249 - Colin Ryan, Kit Harington & Freddie Fox
Monkhouse Lee (Colin Ryan), Smith (Kit Harington) and Bellingham (Freddie Fox). I(mage: BBC/Adorable Media Ltd/Colin Hutton)

Here’s the synopsis:

Old College, Oxford plays host to three very different young academics: Abercrombie Smith (Kit Harington), a model of Victorian manhood, clean of limb and sound of mind; Monkhouse Lee (Colin Ryan), a delicate and unworldly student from Siam; and the strange and exotic Edward Bellingham (Freddie Fox), whose arcane research into Ancient Egypt is the talk of the campus. Could Bellingham’s unnatural experiments bring the breath of life to the horrifying bag of bones tagged Lot No.249?

The tale stars Kit Harington, Freddie Fox, Colin Ryan, John Heffernan, James Swanton, Jonathan Rigby and Andrew Horton. It’s an Adorable Media production, executive produced by Isibéal Ballance.

Mark Gatiss, who has adapted and directed the story, introduces Lot No.249

“It’s a short story by Arthur Conan Doyle and it’s about a group of students at a college in Oxford in 1881.  One of them is a square-jawed Victorian hero, one of them is a foreign student from Siam who is rather less worldly and the third one is a scholar of Eastern languages called Edward Bellingham who has an unhealthy interest in reviving the dead. He buys an auction lot which is a mummy – Lot No. 249.”

Lot No.249 Mark Gatiss with Kit Harrington
Mark Gatiss, Smith (Kit Harington) (Image: BBC/Adorable Media Ltd/Colin Hutton)

He also considers what makes this a good ghostly festive tale

“I would say it’s an overripe box of chocolates – it’s a typically full-blooded Victorian melodrama with elements of Boy’s Own story as well as that Doyle/Rider Haggard feel. It’s the original “mummy” story as far as we know.  It’s certainly one of the first stories to feature a mummy as an instrument of revenge. So everything we associate with the Mummy from Hollywood to Hammer starts here.  It’s got a terrific cast and it should be a delicious Christmas treat.”

And talks about the differences in style between M.R. James and Arthur Conan Doyle

“James is very much about a slow accumulation of dread –  you often start with quite normal circumstances, usually with a middle-aged bachelor who transgresses some unwritten supernatural law or finds something he shouldn’t have and then is gradually hunted down by a vengeful spirit. The Doyle story is much more of a straightforward horror archetype – it’s about reviving the dead, it’s about the mummy as an instrument of revenge. Doyle is a very different writer to James – he’s one of the greatest short story writers we’ve ever produced.  He writes the Victorian man and the strange threats they encounter rather brilliantly.”

Kit Harrington tells us about his character, Abercrombie Smith

“He plays with a straight bat! Very proper. Doesn’t want anything disturbing his world order. Doesn’t trust anything that’s not out of the text books of the time… he’ll stick to his phrenology and be done with it, thank you very much!”

Lot No.249 - Kit Harrington as Smith & James Swanton as The Mummy

Smith (Kit Harington), The Mummy (James Swanton) (Image: BBC/Adorable Media Ltd/Kieran McGuigan)

He also reacts to Mark Gatiss saying that he really embodied the Victorian gentleman

“Mark clearly saw that I’m a closet Victorian man trapped in a millennial body. I loved these costumes, I loved the moustache…I’d definitely do something of this period again.”

Freddie Fox plays Edward Bellingham and talks about us interest in the occult

“Bellingham is obviously a child of money and privilege, but he didn’t fit into the model of what a man of the time should be, and so consequently I think rather than trying to conform he went further the other way and go, I’m going to ‘un-conform’ – because society doesn’t recognise somebody like me, so I’m not going to recognise this society – I’m going to look elsewhere.”

Lot No.249 - Freddie Fox as Bellingham
Bellingham (Freddie Fox) (Image: BBC/Adorable Media Ltd/Colin Hutton)Bellingham (Freddie Fox) (Image: BBC/Adorable Media Ltd/Colin Hutton)

He also explains how he would persuade his next-door neighbour to watch Lot No.249

“It’s the Christmas Conan Doyle chiller adapted by Mark Gatiss, I don’t think you need to do very much else – it sells itself! But if I had to summarize it I’d say it’s the story of three students in an Oxford college, one of whom is trying to bring a Mummy to life.”

A Ghost Story for Christmas: Lot No.249 haunts BBC Two and BBC iPlayer this Christmas Eve from 10pm.