quality horror themed TV has been sadly lacking lately, and this show seems to have real potential to change that.
Midwinter of the Spirit is a new three part supernatural drama from ITV, starring Anna Maxwell Martin as Merrily Watkins. Merrily is a vicar with an eventful backstory; recently widowed, with a teenage daughter, a new rural parish to minister… oh, and also she’s recently trained as an exorcist.
After a creepy, intriguing cold open, that training is where we begin. David Threlfall (Shameless) is Merrliy’s mentor, inducting her as part of a small group of priests into ‘the deliverance ministry’. It’s a brilliant performance by Threfall - understated, matter of fact, always cutting against the supernatural with a grounded, down to earth approach. It’s fiercely intelligent acting married to a smart script, and serves to give the supernatural elements gravity, rather than undermine them. Basically the only complaint I had about this first part was that he didn’t get much screen time, and I hope he returns in subsequent parts.
If fact, the performances on the whole are superb - Merrliy’s teenage daughter manages to be smartphone obsessed and casually cruel to her mother without falling into cliche, and indeed the complexity of their relationship, loving yet frustrated, is superbly realised, and the performances throughout, from the old priest assumed to be suffering from dementia, the nurses in the hospital, and Merrily’s new boss, are of a consistently high quality - naturalistic, often understanded, real.
The plot is also intriguing, with Merrily being called in by the police when a body is found crucified in the wood (“We were led to understand you were the church contact for… this sort of thing.”), then later being taken to the house of the victim, where she discovers a Satanist shrine in the basement. How this connects with the evil man dying in the hospital isn’t immediately clear by the end of part one, but the way events are unfolding, I will be astonished if there’s a naturalistic explanation. This one is going to get dark, I suspect.
The supernatural elements are handled very deftly, as much as possible by inference, camera work, and acting, giving the few visual effects that much more impact - indeed, at least one memorable jump scare is achieved by this combination alone, without the cheap ‘scare stab’ on the soundtrack. Again, it’s almost understated, and all the more powerful for it - this may not be flashy or showy directing, but it is skillful and intelligent and builds atmosphere marvelously.
I must also tip my hat to Stephen Volk - the script here is very strong, giving the actors space to interpret and explore the characters, and providing some really layered exchanges - as noted earlier, especially in the scenes between Merrily and her teenage daughter. I’m a big fan of Mr. Volk’s prose work, and it’s clear that same talent is at play here - this is intelligent writing, managing to put naturalistic dialogue into some decidedly creepy and unusual situations.
In all, I was totally taken in by Part 1 of Midwinter of the Spirit, and eagerly await the conclusion of the story. If mainstream supernatural drama, with realistic characters and layered storytelling is your thing, you should definitely check this out - not least because mainstream, quality horror themed TV has been sadly lacking lately, and this show seems to have real potential to change that.
Midwinter of the Spirit starts Wednesday 23rd September on ITV.