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DVD Review

DVD cover

Midwinter of the Spirit
Series One


Starring: Anna Maxwell Martin and David Threlfall
Distributor: ITV Studios Home Entertainment
Certificate: 15
Release Date: 02 November 2015

Merrliy has her own demons to deal with when her bishop recommends her for the role of deliverance minister, a more PC title for an exorcist. Even during her training with the gruff Huw, Merrily is pretty sure that her appointment has more to do with removing the current holder of the post than any innate ability she may possess. Huw warns her that only a minister sure in their faith, and with no chinks in their emotional armour, would survive the job and Merrily is full of chinks. When a man is discovered crucified the police come calling and Merrily starts her own decent into hell...

Midwinter of the Spirit (2015 3 x 45 min) is a supernatural thriller directed by Richard Clark, from a Stephen Volk script, which is an adaptation of the original Phil Rickman novel of the same name.

Anna Maxwell Martin gives an astounding performance as Merrily, but as a character she is difficult to empathise with. Merrily seems to have failed as a wife, her piety driving her husband into another woman’s arms and his untimely death in a car crash. Her view of his infidelity means that she barely hides her hate. This does not go down well with her daughter, Jane (Sally Messham) and drives a wedge between them. Jane falls into poor company.

Rowenna Napier (Leila Mimmack) has a shock of white hair and has recently returned to the parish. Because of her troubled past she is under the care of her social worker Lol Robinson (Doc Brown) who tries to help Rowenna, sensing that there is something very wrong with her. Through Rowenna Jane also meets and forms an emotional attachment to James Lydon (Will Attenborough). The young triumvirate are taken under the wing of local mystic and café owner Angela Purefoy (Siobhan Finneran).

As the plot unfolds, it’s less horror than supernatural thriller, it reminded me of The Devil Rides Out (1968) in that it heavily relies on inference than any actual demonstration of evil. That is not to say that it does not provide the requisite number of jumps.

Merrily is a strange character to place at the centre of the story, now I’m not always expecting female heroines to emulate Ripley’s "Get away from her you bitch" [Aliens] attitude, but Merrily is a heavy smoking, wine quaffing, walking emotional mess of a woman. Anna Maxwell Martin plays the part so well that it’s difficult to take your eyes off the screen, although you’ll be thinking "WTF are you doing now". She even rejects Huw’s (David Threlfall) help when she is obviously being haunted.

The story is told over three forty-five minute episodes, but works best if you just watch them all in the same sitting, it would have been nice to have had the option to play this as a feature length movie.

The print is good, but there have been some colour scheme decision which makes watching the show somewhat jarring. Internal shots are presented in a naturalistic manner, whereas external shots of the countryside are washed out and blue, possibly to indicate coldness, though whether this is a metaphor for the character is unclear.

Another thing which remains unclear is the nature of the wound inflicted on Merrily by the dying Denzil. Throughout the story this small scratch continues to grow, like stigmata, but it’s never really clear whether Denzil has used this to haunt Merrily or an expression of her growing paranoia.

The show is well structure, even though you’ll probably work out the connections between the characters by the middle of the second episode. The story was based on a series of novels and on the back of this production it would be interesting to see ITV adapt the others.


Charles Packer

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