I don’t mind telling you that I bloody love Anna Maxwell Martin. One of the country’s best actresses, she’s really excellent in this – a new ITV three-parter that’s a crime drama, but not as we know it (Jim). An adaptation of Phil Rickman’s best-selling novels Maxwell Martin – who’s no stranger to crime drama, thanks to The Bletchley Circle and the upcoming Agatha Christie adaptation of And Then There Were None – stars as Merrily Watkins, a priest who moves to Hereford with her teenage daughter to start afresh after her husband was killed in a car crash. Instead of a fresh start she becomes embroiled in a murder case, which has strong links to satanism. Unusually for television series, Midwinter Of The Spirit is actually pretty creepy and scary. We managed to get hold of an interview with Maxwell Martin, and it’s after the jump if it pleases.
The Killing Times: Tell us about Rev Merrily Watkins?
Anna Maxwell Martin: Merrily is a vicar who has just moved from a city parish to a countryside parish in the middle of Herefordshire with a teenage daughter called Jane, played by Sally Messham. Merrily is recently bereaved. Her husband has died. When I first read the script I thought, ‘This is a really cracking character. There is so much to her. She is a bit crazy and losing her way.’ Those are the characters I always respond to. The ones that have true foibles and are good and bad. They can be mean and ugly, then nice. She veers in and out of trying to find out who she is and grip on to being a good person of faith. But she is really struggling. That’s what appealed to me about it. I also love her name. Because she’s not merry at all.
TKT: We see Merrily train up as a deliverance minister. We’d never heard of them before. Had you?
AMM: I thought the author Phil Rickman had made it up. But they do exist and they’re in every diocese in the country. We’ve met one. He’s lovely and is an advisor on the series. A deliverance minister is someone who helps people in all sorts of ways. Not just paranormal activity. It encompasses the mental health sector, social work, psychiatry and a whole load of things. So there will be someone in your diocese who can help you if you feel you are struggling with a whole range of problems in your life. They include what may be thought of as some kind of paranormal ac.vity. But that might be explained by your deliverance minister when they get to the root of the problem. It may not be paranormal ac.vity, it might be something else. That’s why it’s a really extraordinary role because it encompasses lots of different ideas and forms of help and aid to people. When we first meet Merrily she had been persuaded to go down the line of being a deliverance minister and is undergoing training. David Threlfall, who plays her mentor Reverend Huw Owen, has done his research with the advisor but I’ve done my research via the vicar side. Because it’s Huw who is the doyen of deliverance and Merrily is not. She is really struggling to find her way. With deliverance, with her faith, with everything.
TKT: Do you believe yourself that these unexplained things may exist?
AMM: Yes. I’m not a cynic. I’m not really cynical about anything. So I do believe these things can exist. I’ve never seen anything myself but I have friends who have seen things. Whether that’s a manifesta.on of them being crazy, I don’t know. Or whether those things do actually exist. I absolutely believe this is possible. Nothing like that has happened to me but I’m totally open to it. I’m not cynical about it.
TKT: Can you describe Merrily’s relaJonship with Huw?
AMM: Huw is her mentor. He gets to the heart of who she is and he is very straight and honest with her. She doesn’t like that at .mes and they row. But they have a deep affection for each other, although not in any romantic sense.
TKT: Were you able to forget about the dark subject matter of the drama at the end of each day’s filming?
AMM: Oh yes. I’ve just got a lot of other things to think about. So, no, I don’t take it home with me.
TKT: Do you think we are more aware of the battle between good and evil in today’s world?
AMM: It’s much more prevalent in our minds. Although you have to remember we have stepped away from faith. A hundred years ago most people would have truly believed in some kind of faith. Church was a huge part of community life in a way it is not anymore. Certainly for my grandparents. They were down at church every Sunday and that was absolutely normal. My parents also met at church. So in that context good and evil was part of people’s lives. But now we have a media based good and evil. And the nature of evil has changed because we’re all obsessed with paedophiles, the safety of our children and so on. It’s now a media based world rather than a world based in your community and your faith.
TKT: So are you, yourself, a woman of faith?
AMM: Yes, I am. I don’t necessarily believe completely in organised religion but I do have faith, for definite. The vicar at my local church in Yorkshire is doing a wonderful job and is a really terrific example of the church. They are packed to the rafters, have a really jolly band, kids are welcome and it’s a very open, inclusive community. But there are people there of, I suppose, high church who struggle with that idea. Even so, the fact is churches have to get bums on seats. And it’s difficult now for all parishes and lots of vicars. It’s difficult to do that.
TKT: What were your thoughts on playing a vicar?
AMM: I was very keen that the dog collar should be on all the time. It’s who she is. Merrily is always on show and it’s always clear who she is and what her job is. She has to be available to everyone. That’s the point. When you are a vicar in a dog collar you’re available to your parish. So on the one hand it’s very exposing. And on the other it’s a barrier to her own daughter. Both Merrily and her teenage daughter Jane are struggling and both are still grieving. That’s a huge pressure, especially when there’s only two of you in the family. And so because of that they go down a bit of a dark path.
Midwinter Of The Spirit, Wednesday 23rd September, 9pm, ITV