The first episode of Midwinter Of The Spirit – a three-part ITV drama that has been adapted from the novels by Phil Rickham – was an unashamedly thrills and spills ride into the world of Satanism and the battle by a female priest, Merrily Watkins (Anna Maxwell Martin), to try and find out who murdered one man, and perhaps another. Her recent deliverance ministry training and stepping into a world of crime had affected her badly, and in episode two her state of mind eroded further.
The first half of this episode was given over to Merrily and her state of mind. The fall-out of the discovery of Canon Dobb’s body at the end of the first episode helped to tip Merrily over the edge. She was convinced that the same people who killed Paul Sayer in that ritualistic murder had killed Dobbs. The police were slightly incredulous – hold on, you think he was murdered? These aren’t very good police officers, but I guess that’s besides the point.
We saw in the first series of Fargo that the unfortunate Lester Nygaard had a wound on his hand that signified an internal strife, and Merrily had the same thing – she couldn’t stop pawing and scratching at the wound she had received from Denzil Joy, the inference being that this wound was some kind of physical imprint of the scary man onto Merrily. Huw Owen had noticed it, when the two were called to a church that had been desecrated. A mutilated crow had been placed on the altar, which, Merrily told the police, signified deep symbolism.
After Dobbs’s death was officially ruled as a suicide, the nervous, twitching Merrily had made her way back into Dobbs’s home after a chat with his cleaner revealed that a bearded man had given him something. That was the moment his descent into madness had started. What she found was a video tape, containing disturbing footage filmed in Sayer’s Satanist shrine of a cellar featuring a sacrifice and a young girl. Merrily surmised to the police that perhaps it was Sayer who had visited Dobbs and wanted to repent his sins, thus revealing the existence of a Satanist cult in the town. Denzil Joy was also spotted in the video.
The second half of the episode was all about Merrily’s teenage daughter Jane, and her friendship with Jane and Angela, the mysterious woman who gave her a tarot reading in the first episode. They were all in cahoots, grooming Jane. Telling her that her mother doesn’t understand her grief, and that her friends do. This sense that Jane’s new friends were no good was strengthened by Rowenna’s social worker Lol who, disturbed by the fact that when he mentioned the crow desecration she smiled and said she often wished crows would come to play with her when she was a child, did some digging into her past. Her records were hard to come by, but in the end he managed to find her original foster parents, who eventually told him that Rowenna was abused as a child.
Merrily also went to see Denzil Joy’s embittered wife, who opened up to Merrily and told her that the child in the video was their daughter, who she had had to spirit her away. It was Rowenna.
Jane, meanwhile, accepted an invitation from Angela (who was now working at her bistro) to waitress at a party she was hosting at her house. Accept this house was enormous, filled with skulls and the accoutrements of the occult. The grooming of Jane was being stepped up, Angela playing on the rift between Jane and her pious mother to perfection.
There was a sense that everything was being built up for the final episode, and in this way Midwinter Of The Spirit is well-paced and constructed. As these two episodes have continued, Merrily has become isolated – the police, the social service all seemingly dragging their heels (are they part of the cult?), Huw Owen doubting her emotional fortitude and her own daughter blaming her for her father’s death (we found out that it was Merrily’s religion that pushed her husband away, resulting in him having an affair).
With Jane now turned to the dark side and her relationship with her mother in tatters, it’ll be a race against time to save her from the clutches of the cult, who undoubtedly were behind the deaths of Sayer and Dobbs.
With all three-part series, the story has to be told quickly and some of the devices that propel it – especially the way Merrily has a nap and then has a nightmare – are a bit cliched and repeated too often (as is the main musical motif, which was starting to drive me a bit mad). In fact everything’s a bit cliched and nothing too different from what we’ve seen in horror movies before. Even Denzil Joy, the main human personification of evil in this story, has a touch of the Bob-from-Twin-Peaks about him. But the fact is that this is well made and, especially Anna Maxwell Martin, well acted, which makes it very watchable and easy to go along with, as well as let those staged scary moments scare you.
For our episode one review go here
For an interview with Anna Maxwell Martin, go here
For an interview with David Threlfall, go here