And so we come to it, the finale of Midwinter Of The Spirit. It has been pounded in the ratings by BBC1’s Doctor Foster and there’s an argument that this should have been scheduled much deeper into winter, on Sunday nights perhaps (imagine, a proper winter ghost story). But one thing is has been is well-made and there are thrills and spills available to those who want them. We saw at the end of the last episode that the imprint or spirit of Denzil Joy was still looking large in Merrily’s mind, a mind that had become utterly frazzled. It was just a case of whether she could pull it back together, get her daughter back from evil Angela and find out what her gang were up to. No pressure then.
Despite numerous attempts to get her daughter back from the clutches of Rowenna and Angela – whose grand house she was cooped up in – Jane was still estranged from her increasingly desperate mother, who seemed to move from shaking emotion to almost a resigned bemusement as the weight of her spiritual and very real family battles took their toll. It took Huw Owen to bring some clarity to Merrily’s life, and indeed to this drama. The procedural part of the story – finding out who killed Sayers and Dobbs, as well as try to find out what Angela’s gang of quasi Satanists were up to, took an upsurge in this finale. And not a moment too soon. Owen went to investigate the church that had been desecrated, finding out that it had been the place Thomas Cantilupe, a canonised medieval Bishop of Hereford, had been baptised. Cantilupe was mentioned in the previous episode, by Dobbs’s cleaning woman, so we knew that this character was to play some role in the story, despite being dead for almost a millennium. Further investigation found that Cantilupe was a mythical demon slayer, and as Owen and Merrily inspected his bones, Angela had stolen into his crypt to tip the ashes of Denzil Joy into it.
Suddenly Midwinter Of The Spirit had the feel of a Da Vinci Code-style story, with medieval saints and sinners, symbols and bones and cathedrals at its heart.
And it was at the cathedral that was to host the final dénouement. Angela, Rowenna and Jane had made their way there to witness the coronation of young bishop James – an ancient ceremony apparently – that sees the transfer of power. At the moment when young James (Jane’s boyfriend and acolyte of Angela) was crowned there would be a spiritual vacuum because Cantilupe’s bones were not on site, and that’s when a sacrifice would be made and this nefarious group’s ascendancy would be complete. (Or something like that.) That sacrifice was to be Jane.
Merrily, having come to her senses, rushed to the scene, while Owen quietly took Cantilupe’s bones and placed them back in the cathedral. When Angela gave the word, Rowenna sprung into action and held a big, medieval knife to Jane’s throat. In a nice bit of production, Merrily and Rowenna, who had morphed into her father Denzil joy, had a face-off. Merrily won.
But that wasn’t the end of it. It was revealed it was the Bishop who was the ringleader of it all, and the man behind the murders. He leapt to his death from the parapets of Hereford cathedral.
Looking back at those last few paragraphs it’s hard to believe that I typed those words. Medieval saints, spirits, a man called Cantilupe (patron saint of melons?)… it all amounted to supreme daftness. And, as a someone who runs a crime drama blog, it’s not often that a crime drama encompasses these things. In fact the crime element diminished as the series went along, despite starting with two murders in the first episode. In the end Midwinter Of The Spirit turned out to be a study of grief wrapped up in a well-made but quite cheesy horror story. When we grieve our feelings of desolation are so strong that we are desperate to belong to something, whether it be Christianity or something more nefarious. We are at our most vulnerable state, and this is what Midwinter Of The Spirit tried to explore – how human beings seek to fill that whole, that void with something, anything.
It was wrapped up a little too quickly, certainly the healing process between Merrily and her daughter, and some of the characters and set-ups were a bit clichéd, but the series (which was originally due to be shown on ITV Encore, don’t forget) benefitted from timing – in many ways it was the perfect series to watch on cold autumn nights (although it might have benefitted even more if it was shown deep into winter), and the chills and jump-out-of-your-seat moments were perfectly made, despite the daft story.
There are plenty of Phil Rickman’s Merrily Watkins books, so I wonder if we’ll see her again.
For our episode one review go here
For our episode two review go here
For an interview with Anna Maxwell Martin go here
For an interview with David Threlfall go here