Ginger Nuts of Horror
Again, this review will contain SPOILERS for episode 3 of Midwinter of the Spirit and likely the previous two episodes too. So if you haven’t seen them yet, get thee to an ITVPlayer and remedy the issue pronto, okay?
That was a bit good, wasn’t it?
I guess the first thing to say is that it clearly, in retrospect, wasn’t a cliffhanger at the end of the last episode, or at least not in the classic sense. No, what this show had in mind for us was something altogether more complex, and for my money more interesting, than that would have been. What we’ve got here, I think, is a good a piece of Rorschach style supernatural/psychological thriller as I can remember seeing on TV in a long, long time. In fact, off the top of my head, I can't think of a finer example.
In retrospect, the clues were there in earlier episodes. I’d highlighted when talking about part 2 how the scene with Merrily’s daughter Jane and ‘medium’ Angela Purefoy could either be a genuine contact with the spirit realm or an expert piece of cold-reading manipulation with some hypnotic suggestion thrown in. I hadn’t realised just how powerfully or cleverly those themes would be developed in this final episode.
The continued manipulation of Jane by Angela and her ‘friends’ was one such strand, with the conspiracy between her supposed boyfriend James and the terrifyingly unpleasant Rowenna creating some brilliant scream-at-the-telly moments. If the revelation that Rowenna was really Denzil Joy’s daughter was predictable, the scene where she went to reclaim her father’s ashes from her estranged mother still packed a powerful emotional and dramatic punch, in a tightly written and brilliantly performed sequence.
Elsewhere, the double act of Anna Maxwell Martin as Merrily and David Threfell as Huw continues to deliver fireworks, with both actors firing on all cylinders throughout this climatic episode. One particular scene that sticks in the mind is the two of them discussing the missing bones of the saints from the cathedral, and what it means in terms of the satanists plot. It’s an incredibly dense scene, serving as exposition, plot, and powerful character drama all at once, as a combination of Huw’s stubbornness and concern over Merrily’s mental and spiritual health collide headlong with her own fear, anxiety, and paranoia. It’s a deliciously rich and powerful piece of drama, underpinned by writing of exceptional intelligence, both emotional and intellectual. The moment when, in response to Merrily wondering if the satanists really can summon a demon, Huw replies with frustrated urgency “Don’t you see? It doesn’t matter! THEY believe it!” was a breathtaking moment of television, at once conveying the urgency and desperation of the situation, and expressing directly the answer to the question, is this a supernatural horror story or psychological thriller? Answer: yes. The audacity of that moment has played on my mind since seeing it, and I’m just lost in admiration for all concerned in bringing that moment to screen. Brilliant stuff.
The climactic scenes in the cathedral were similarly audacious, with the fading of the congregation, leaving only Merrily, Roweena and Jane a superb touch, heightening the drama and tension of the moment to almost unbearable levels. And I enjoyed the denouement too - the unmasking of one conspirator, but the clear implication that there are many more out there; that this is not so much the end as an opening skirmish in a wider, deeper war.
To that end, I will be bitterly disappointed if we do not get more shows in this series. What ITV have delivered here is something far deeper and more interesting than just a well made supernatural thriller, as the opening episode suggested. What we got by the end was a story set in the grey area of psychology and spirituality, showing respect for both traditions, alongside a pulse pounding drama which concluded with the reveal of the contours of a far bigger, deeper story still to be told.
I desperately hope we get a chance to see it. I haven’t been this excited about the prospect of a new TV show in a long time.