fri 01/07/2022

Midwinter of the Spirit, ITV | reviews, news & interviews

Midwinter of the Spirit, ITV

Midwinter of the Spirit, ITV

Something evil stirs in darkest Herefordshire

The Devil rides out: Anna Maxwell Martin as Merrily Watkins with David Threlfall as Huw Owen

TV series about the clergy are usually farcical, self-deprecating or just plain wet, so it's a pleasant surprise to find one that's prepared to slug it out with issues of good and evil. Compared to Rev, a wistful tragi-comedy about managing the terminal decline of the C of E, Midwinter of the Spirit wants to mount up and ride into battle against the Ungodly.

Based on Phil Rickman's novel, it centres on Merrily Watkins (Anna Maxwell Martin), a vicar in a rural Herefordshire parish who's training to be an exorcist, under the beady eye of Huw Owen (David Threlfall), a grey-bearded veteran of matters paranormal. I hope we'll see more of Owen in the two remaining episodes, because his deadpan recitation of all the horrible things that exorcists (or rather practitioners in the "deliverance ministry") can expect to be visited upon them was one of the best bits. He describes the job as "metaphysical trench warfare", and alerted Merrily to the host of "little rat eyes in the dark", ready to attack. "If you're weak they'll get in, lass," he warned, in a roller-coaster Northern brogue reminiscent of cricket commentator David Lloyd, "and as an ordained woman you're wearing a bloody big bullseye."

Which was a shrewd point, because Midwinter... is also the story of Merrily's struggles as a single mother – her husband having been killed in a car crash – who has moved from the city to the rural wilds, and is raising teenage daughter Jane (Sally Messham, pictured right) at the same time as taking on her daunting new job. Even for the eminently capable Merrily it's a big ask, since barely a day goes by in these parts without some ominous manifestation of spiritual darkness.

But here was the problem. Possibly due to being compressed into three episodes, Midwinter... felt it necessary to dispense with routine scene-setting or giving us a feel for everyday Herefordshire life. Nobody round here seems to do any shopping or farming or DIY. Instead, everybody is a full-time religious fanatic, satanist or clairvoyant (when Merrily's daughter visited the pub, she was assailed in the Ladies by a creepy woman who immediately whipped out a pack of Tarot cards and started delving into her subconscious). 

We'd barely been introduced to Merrily before the local cops (pictured left) hauled her out to examine a crucified man hanging in a tree surrounded by Blair Witch-style symbols. Then the Sister at the local hospital rang her at 3.10am to minister to a dying man named Denzil Joy, who (she helpfully explained) was clearly possessed by "pure evil" and had been doing some sinister psychic groping of the nursing staff. He died while Merrily was at his bedside, then sprang horridly to life again to slice her hand with his fingernails. 

Something Really Bad is going on, and has been for some time. All this festering evil has already driven Merrily's predecessor, the Professor Branestawm-esque Canon Dobbs, round the bend. Bishop Mick Hunter (Nicholas Pinnock), who looks more like a groovy R&B singer than a senior clergyman, doesn't want any of this diabolical mumbo-jumbo impeding his climb up the stairway to career heaven, so Merrily had better get results pronto. David Threlfall (and presumably God) will be on her side.

Possibly due to being compressed into three episodes, 'Midwinter' dispensed with routine scene-setting or giving us a feel for everyday Herefordshire life


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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