Timmy Timmy Timmy, cant you see,
Sometimes your films just TERRIFY me!
And I just love your ‘tachey ways,
‘Scuse me while I eat these canapes.
Being big Timothy Spall and Juliet Stevenson fans, the first thing GOF honed in on, irresistibly, was how great they were looking at the premier of The Enfield Haunting at Bafta last Wednesday. Tim was looking mighty dapper in his casual tweed suit and slimmer than he’s been in years. As for Juliet, she hasn’t aged a day past her golden role as Kiera Knightley’s soccer mum in Bend It Like Beckham.
There has been a buzz of excitement around Sky Living’s latest three-part thriller and its terror-inducing powers, which hit the channel on Sunday. Thinking myself aloofly immune to horror, I expected a few jumps and creaky doors – nothing too heavy for a TV show. But the atmosphere at Bafta in Piccadilly Circus where the premiere of Part 1 was held was that of a cast and crew who seemed genuinely spooked – and the feeling was contagious!
Based on real life events (or real reports, at least, around which there is still much mystery) that took place in the allegedly haunted household of the Hodgson family in 1977, the question on everyone’s lips after the showing was: but do you believe it? It was as if no one could get away from their preoccupation with how open-ended the story is, which, in an age of ultra-immediacy and availability, is such a thrilling fact. Was there really a poltergeist?
Eleven Films acquired the rights to the story after years of begging with the author of This House Is Haunted, Guy Lyon Playfair. They, along with Sky, have created something nuanced and original and moving. Aptly, there is a distinct throw-back-seventies vibe to the lack of computerised special effects, lending the drama an authentic period feel that makes it all the more chilling. The music is as teasing as a 1930s murder mystery, without ever peaking.
THE ENFIELD HAUNTING opens traditionally enough: in a crumbly graveyard where an ominous-looking old man scolds some children playing hide and seek. But from there on, as director Kristoffer Nyholm (THE KILLING) explains, the focus of the drama becomes very personal, and the spectre that haunts the family a metaphor for “unidentified pain” which draws in all these outsiders. Leaving skepticism at the door is Maurice Grosse, played by Tim, the paranormal researcher who has recently suffered the loss of his daughter and who develops a fatherly attachment to 10-year-old Janet (Eleanor Worthington-Cox). Juliet, whose role looks to be complex in the coming parts and foreshadows pain and tragedy, stars as Maurice’s wife, Betty.
Entering the formidable Enfield dwelling with bags of skepticism and picking up Maurice’s for good measure on the way in is the experienced investigator Guy Lyon Playfair, played by Matthew Macfadyen. Together, it looks safe to say that him and Maurice will discover more than naughty children playing tricks on gullible adults.
“How do you fill that void?” asks Juliet, on the tragedy that befalls her character and her husband.“The most unthinkable tragedy of losing a child.” Everyone is in agreement in the end that although the many accounts of the Hodgson family, police officers and journalists are verifiable, the point of THE ENFIELD HAUNTING is not whether it’s ‘real’ or not, essentially, but what that mystery, that hole, that energy, that chink of the inexplicable represents for the characters, how it draws them in and exposes their frailties – and their strengths, too.