Year:  1975

Movie / TV:   The Ash Tree

Director:  Lawrence Gordon Clark

Others in the Cast:  Preston Lockwood, Barbara Ewing, Lalla Ward, Lucy Griffiths, Oliver Maguire, Clifford Kershaw, Cyril Appleton, David Pugh, Glynn Sweet

Plot summary:  After taking up his inheritance, Sir Richard Dickin is haunted by dreams of his ancestor Sir Matthew Dickin who condemned a local woman to death as a witch. Before dying, the woman cursed the Dickin family and when animals on Sir Richard's estate start to die mysteriously, it seems the curse may be about to visit him. Put what part does the ash tree outside the mansion play in all this, and what horrors are lurking with its branches? - EOFF

Full synopsis from Screenonline here

Peth’s role:  Sir Richard/Sir Matthew


As with all his previous Jamesian forays in the A Ghost Story For Christmas series, Lawrence Gordon Clark directs with a great verve for subtlety and a very fine British cast give carefully controlled and expressive performances which is highly fortuitous given the surprisingly minimal amount of dialogue.   In particular Edward Petherbridge is restrained yet splendid is his challenging dual role as both Sir Richard and his unfortunate ancestor Sir Matthew whilst British horror starlet Barbara Ewing gives a fleeting but powerful depiction of the justifiably embittered Mrs Mothersole.  - Jack's Movie Page

The pull into the past is subtle and gradual - first there are silhouetted figures entreating Sir Matthew while Sir Richard sits in his study (both are played by Edward Petherbridge); later Sir Richard begins, unknowingly, to repeat words and phrases previously used by his great uncle, before we finally start cutting directly into the flashbacks. - Screenonline

The action takes place partly in the present - the late eighteenth century - and partly in flashback. In the flashback sequences Sir Richard seems to become his own ancestor, Sir Matthew, and to experience past events as if they are happening to him. Thus he sees the buxom, blonde Mrs Mothersole busy about the ash tree, then sees the hare running away and follows it to her house, where he seemingly rouses her from sleep. The narrator of the original story says: "Whether the persons accused of this offence really did imagine that they were possessed of unusual powers of any kind...or whether all the confessions, of which there are so many, were extorted by the mere cruelty of the witch-finders - these are questions which are not, I fancy, yet solved." Richard/Matthew is present when Mrs Mothersole is tortured and again when she curses him, just before she and two other 'witches' are to be hanged. The words she uses are "Mine shall inherit", rather than James's "There will be guests at the Hall". - Ghosts & Scholars

Extracts from IMDB user reviews:

The flashback scenes of 17th century England are beautifully realized, the style of dress and the themes involved immediately bring to mind memories of films like Witchfinder General(1968), the countryside therein also being like an uncredited character, with the delightful sounds of nature allowed to hold sway over intrusive dialogue. Edward Petherbridge plays the dual roles of Sir Richard/Matthew with a great deal of gravitas, he exudes an eloquence of speech that can't hide his stage past of some renown. Director Clark again passes muster with another excellent entry, the film benefits greatly from its almost docudrama style that lends the film an instant air of authenticity


Edward Petherbridge, a dead-ringer for Anthony Higgins, is an appropriately confused protagonist as he shifts from one epoch to the other.


The poor chap in this evil little rustic tale is the most unfortunate in the series, being that he is haunted by both his ancestor and the women he had wronged. He has a portent of his own doom, and is his own marionette, leading himself to a fate you wouldn't wish on your worse enemy. Well, maybe. Signalling the past through echoing voices is a little hokey, but the ending is juicy.


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Original pics here



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