1970’s suburbia acts at the backdrop to Sky Living’s latest miniseries, based on the true events of The Enfield Poltergeist. Was the story of a family troubled by a man from beyond the grave actually genuine, or was it nothing more than an elaborate hoax? This is the basis for the Joshua St Johnston scribed three-part dramatization, The Enfield Haunting, which aired its third and final episode tonight.
In August 1977, the Hodgson family – single mother Peggy and her children – report strange occurrences in their rented council house in Enfield, London. What starts as noises – knocking on walls and taps dripping – develops into objects moving of their own volition; furniture sliding across the floor and marbles flying through the air is just the beginning.
The youngest girl, Janet, is most disturbed by the incidents, as she becomes the unwilling object of possession by the apparent ghost, a foul-mouthed man who lived and died in the house before the family moved in. After the Press become involved, Society for Psychical Research member Maurice Grosse is called in to authenticate the family’s claim.
Maurice – played by the always-excellent Timothy Spall – is accompanied by Matthew Macfadyen’s sceptical Guy Lyon Playfair, whose initial assignment is to snub the family’s story. He is also keeping a watchful eye on Maurice, whose own personal tragedy and need for answers draws him to the family, in particular Janet, who shares the name of Maurice’s daughter who died in a motorcycle accident.
Spall and Macfadyen have a very natural dynamic, the faithful believer and the rational realist coming together for a common cause, that being the welfare of the Hodgsons. Juliet Stevenson feels like a wasted opportunity as Maurice’s wife, Betty, but there’s a heart-breaking scene where the couple grieve surrounded by china shards after Maurice smashes their crockery in a fit of pure misery, guilt and frustration. Spall and Stevenson are magic in this moment.
Eleanor Worthington Cox’s thirteen-year-old Janet is a fierce personality, not afraid to say what’s on her mind and, surprisingly, not as alarmed by the haunting as she probably should be. Sure, she has moments that leave her in an awful state as the possession takes its toll on her mind and body, but she’s remarkably resilient. Her bond with Maurice, who becomes an almost pseudo father to Janet, is what allows the story to remain a human one, rather than just a typical ghost tale that scares but doesn’t leave an emotional mark.
What helps to bring Sky’s miniseries to life are the small touches that evoke the time period. The clothes and décor scream seventies, giving the series a retro backdrop that fully immerses the viewer in the story. These evocative scenes also echo chilling real-life photographs taken from the famous house in Green Street where the Hodgson family lived. An image of Janet mid-air, apparently possessed by the spirit of Bill Wilkins, is particularly haunting and brought so realistically to life here.
Episode one in this three-parter is definitely the most chilling as the writers take advantage of their viewers not knowing quite what to expect (the marketing for the series was wonderfully vague). There are some truly scary and heart-stopping moments as the scene of the haunting is set; Janet’s experiences with the poltergeist feel horribly real, like a nightmare she can’t escape from even when she leaves the house.
It starts to lose its impact in the two subsequent episodes – the scares becoming a little less frightening as the story becomes more about the traumas felt by the living and less about the ghost – but it’s stylishly played out, with creepy camera angles and emotional acting by all involved. The final scene in tonight’s episode – which gives Maurice the closure he so desperately needs – is a tasteful conclusion to an enjoyable three-parter.
Ahead of the series, there was a renewed interest in the original Enfield haunting story, with numerous articles detailing the events and their authenticity. The Enfield Poltergeist will also be the subject of the upcoming sequel to The Conjuring (set for release next year), showing that the story is by no means dead and buried. One thing remains the same as it was back in the seventies though, that this story is, and will forever be, a mystery, the truth dictated by whether you believe in the supernatural or not.