Director – Kristoffer Nyholm, Teleplay – Joshua St Johnston, Based on the Book The House is Haunted by Guy Playfair, Producer – Adrian Sturges, Photography – Rasmus Arrildt, Music – Benjamin Wallfisch, Visual Effects – Munky, Special Effects – Machine Shop, Production Design – Jacqueline Abrahams. Production Company – Sky UK Limited/Eleven Film
Timothy Spall (Maurice Grosse), Matthew Macfadyen (Guy Playfair), Eleanor Worthington-Cox (Janet Hodgson), Juliet Stevenson (Betty Grosse), Fern Deacon (Margaret Hodgson), Rosie Cavaliero (Peggy Hodgson), Elliot Kerley (Billy Hodgson), Amanda Lawrence (Lindy Craine), Pete McCabe (Alan Craine), Susannah Wise (Sylvia Burcombe), Neal Barry (John Burcombe), Simon Chandler (Professor Beloff), Martin Hancock (Tony Watson), Struan Rodger (Joe Watson)
In 1977, Maurice Grosse comes to visit solo mother Peggy Hodgson and her four children in the London suburb of Enfield. He has been asked on behalf of the British Society for Psychical Research to investigate reports of a poltergeist that is haunting their house. As Grosse, later joined by colleague Guy Playfair, move into the spare room of the house, they observe various phenomena including objects being thrown about and loud noises. Grosse forms an attachment to the daughter Janet who is at the centre of the haunting, seeing in her a surrogate for his own daughter Janet who was killed. The family in turn enjoy having the two men there. As they continue, the phenomenon becomes more severe with the entity taking over and possessing Janet.
The Enfield Haunting or The Enfield Poltergeist is the name given to a series of purported paranormal phenomena that were manifest in a council flat in the London suburb of Enfield between 1977 and 1979, centred around teenage sisters Janet and Margaret Hodgson. Various objects were reported being thrown across the room and Janet manifested demonic voices. A host of paranormal investigators were brought in – the mini-series documents the two most associated – and there has been considerable disagreement as to whether the phenomena were real or faked. The mini-series is based on Guy Playfair’s account of the investigation, which was published as The House is Haunted: The Investigation of the Enfield Poltergeist (1980).
Most audiences know of The Enfield Haunting through the subsequent high-profile film The Conjuring 2 (2016), which presents a highly fictionalised version of what happened. While The Enfield Haunting doesn’t exactly stay factual (inventing scenes like where Guy is thrown against a wall and Janet is placed in a psychiatric institution but also far more so in terms of key aspects that are omitted – see below), it is more realistically grounded in the era, holds far more of a verisimilitude in the way British people talk and act, and feels like it takes place in a real house. Not to mention that Ed and Lorraine Warren, who were accused of exaggerating their involvement in the case, don’t even get a look-in.
Coming after watching The Conjuring 2 a couple of months earlier, The Enfield Haunting injects a healthy dose of realism back into the story. Of course, what it doesn’t have is James Wan directing – under Kristoffer Nyholm, a Danish director probably best known for his work on the tv series The Killing (2007-12), here in his English language debut, the scares and jumps are much more mundane in nature. Indeed, you feel that what motivated The Enfield Haunting was more its conception as a BBC true-story drama and less any interest in a work that would scare the pants off an audience.
What one would have appreciated is a little more in the way of scepticism – it is there in the way that Matthew Macfadyen’s character and the other investigators ask a number of crucial questions but eventually Mcfadyen sways over to become a believer in the phenomena. The character of Anita Gregory, an important investigator who came away certain that it was all a hoax, and others who were present and had a more sceptical outlook are either written out or minimised (all the other sceptics who come in seeking an explanation that is less biased are depicted as intruders and unwelcome). The scene we did get in The Conjuring 2 where Janet is caught faking a manifestation on videotape is not even mentioned here. Crucially, while the mini-series regards Guy Playfair’s account as neutral and balanced, others have called his investigative technique flawed and naive (which is probably most evident when it came to his writing a book The Geller Effect (1986) that accepted the psychic fraud Uri Geller as real). One would have liked to have seen some more of that – alas, it would have ended up a very different story than the not-uninteresting one that The Enfield Haunting wants to tell.
What we do get is a story that places with much more of an emphasis on character. Well so did The Conjuring 2 but that was the completely fictionalised one of the love between Ed and Lorraine and about her faith. Here Timothy Spall gives one of the best performances I have seen him give as the ordinary father grieving for the death of his daughter and projecting this onto the investigation. Alongside him, Matthew Mcfadyen, of British tv shows like Spooks (2002-11) and Ripper Street (2012– ), is at his most dashingly handsome outfitted in 1970s cool. The story is a very well written arc about the growth of the relationship between Grosse and Janet, arriving at a moving reconciliation of his emotions. Even though you suspect that most of this is a fiction created for the mini-series, it is written and played with great strength.
(Nominee for Best Actor (Timothy Spall) at this site’s Best of 2015 Awards).