Midwinter of the Spirit: Review: Episode 1

Trainee deliverance minister Merrily Watkins is called in to help a police investigation after a man is found crucified in the woods…

Stephen Volk’s adaptation of Phil Rickman’s second Merrily Watkins novel (the first – for reasons explained here – the author himself regards as effectively a prequel to the series proper) starts off with a fast-cut scene interposing a man running for his life from hooded figures with a priest saying prayers in Latin and suffering physically as a result… Richard Clark’s direction sets the tone for the series, the spiritual and the criminal intertwined with a healthy dollop of spookiness, and a liberal use of sudden close-ups, while Edmund Butt’s music score adds another layer of disquiet to the mix.

It’s essential that everyone involved takes this seriously, and they do. David Threlfall’s sardonic Huw Owen, noting that checking fuses is an important part of an exorcist’s job, could easily be played over the top but instead can talk seriously about the different sorts of visitations, while Anna Maxwell Martin captures the vulnerability at Merrily’s heart, trying to persevere in all the different aspects of her life (home, work and now new responsibilities) when at times all she would really want to do, you suspect, is just stop the world for a few minutes to give herself a breather.

The locality that forms an important part of Rickman’s series is brought to life, from the cathedral with all its pomp and splendour to the wide open spaces. There are plenty of details imported from the books to satisfy the fans – Merrily’s old Volvo, for example – but Volk has subtly updated the text whenever necessary. There are moments that will make you jump (even watching, as I did, in broad daylight, let alone at dead of night) and a gradual pervading sense of wrongness (evil?) as Merrily starts to realise the gravity of the situation.

Verdict: A suitably creepy start to a rather different sort of series. 8/10

Paul Simpson


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