Director/Screenplay – Corinna Faith, Producers – Rob Watson & Matthew James Wilkinson, Photography – Laura Bellingham, Music – Gazelle Twin & Max De Wardener, Visual Effects – Molinare (Supervisor – Andy Tusabe & Mark Wellband), Special Effects Supervisor – Matt Strange, Makeup Effects – Cliff Wallace, Production Design – Francesca Massariol. Production Company – Stigma Films/Air Street Films.
Rose Williams (Val), Diveen Henry (Matron), Nuala McGowan (Terry), Anjelica Serra (Margaret), Emma Rigby (Babs), Shakira Rahman (Saba), Charlie Carrick (Dr Franklyn), Theo Barklem-Biggs (Neville), John Mackay (Senior Doctor), Shubham Sarat (Junior Doctor)
January, 1974. Val arrives at the East London Royal Infirmary for her first day on the job as a nurse. She is an orphan who has grown up in the area and believes that taking the job is putting care back into the community. She comes up against a tough disciplinarian matron and the other nurses who are cynical about the job. She also learns that the hospital is going to be affected by power cuts that have been forced by the miner’s strike and that all the patients with the exception of a handful are being moved to another hospital. After Val breaks the rules and talks to a doctor, the matron punishes her by volunteering her for night duty during the blackout. Given only a lantern, Val is placed on the intensive care ward. As she tries to navigate in the dark, she believes that there is something supernatural lurking.
The Power was a feature-length directorial debut for Corinna Faith who had only made several short films before this. The Power should not be confused with the other similarly titled genre films – in particular the psychic powers film The Power (1968) and the evil doll film The Power (1984).
The sinister hospital has a reasonable history in genre cinema with films like Coma (1978), Sublime (2007), A Cure for Wellness (2016), The Void (2016) and Fractured (2019). Haunted hospitals feature in Unrest (2006), Dark Floors (2008), Nails (2017), Antidote (2021) and to some extent in The Kingdom (1994). A more detailed list can be found under Medical Horrors.
The Power takes place against the backdrop of the UK Miner’s Strike of 1973-4. You can do an internet search if you need to know more detail about this but the essence of what happened was that the country’s coal miners announced a national strike over wage levels. To conserve coal supplies, Prime Minister Edward Heath responded by implementing severe measures including a series power cuts where consumers were reduced to having electricity on for only three days per week – this included reducing people’s working hours and a cut-off for tv transmission. The effects of this were so drastic that Heath was forced to call two general elections – a second after the first resulted in the lack of a majority – and ended up losing office to Margaret Thatcher.
The Power establishes a great deal of atmosphere. Immediately after the film opens with Rose Williams’ arrival at the hospital (in actuality the historic Blythe House, which is actually part of the British Museum), Corinna Faith evokes a sense of clammy NHS institutionalism of the 1970s – the nurses in severe bonnets, clinical antiseptic corridors and wards in vast cavernous Victorian-era buildings, the severe authoritarianism of the power structure (nurses being forbidden from talking to doctors and the like). This is something that Corinna Faith and her production designer and costumier do an uncommonly good job in portraying – it becomes so forbidding and austere an institution that it seems scary even before the lights are turned off.
It is one of the most atmospheric set-ups that one has seen created for a Ghost Story in some time. What also undeniably adds to the effect are the background characterisations where the other nurses seem alternately bored or jaded and are advising Rose Williams to switch off her feelings and telling her that the job will soon deflate them. Up against this, Rose Williams gives a performance that could not seem more the essence of youthful innocence.
Corinna Faith piles on incredible amounts of atmosphere and haunted mood – lots of moving around in almost complete darkness but for a single lamp and then of Rose Williams feeling something touch her in the dark or black soot seen emerging from the vents. The film gets particularly wild and out there about the time that Rose Williams abruptly goes into convulsions and starts twitching on the ward floor – you are not sure if she is having an epileptic seizure or, given the fact this is a genre film, if she is not even possessed in some way. (One disappointment is that the film leaves what was going on here subsequently unexplained).
The latter third of the show goes off at a tangent. Here we realise that the agency haunting the hospital has been a girl who had been sexually abused by a member of the staff. It is not always clear what happened but it appears that the individual in question has taken the victim down to the basement and may have incinerated the body afterwards. This swings what up until then has been a film of extremely haunted mood around to in essence become a Supernatural Retribution story.
Since 2017, there has been a big push for an equal balance of women directors. With this comes a push to make films that focus on women’s issues. The Power very much belongs here – we have what starts out seeming like a ghost story but at the end goes off at entirely different direction where it becomes a work about confronting a patriarchal system that allows the exploitation of young girls – eventually the ghost gets to exact retribution against the guilty party and those that covered up for them.
This does offer the novelty of what can be considered possibly the first feminist ghost story, It does make for strong and interesting story but it is one where the sympathies have ended up in a very different place to the spooky ghost story that we started out watching – at the outset we see Rose Williams being spooked by sinister ghostly forces in the hospital; by the end, we are supposed to cheering the ghosts on as they give just desserts punishments to the rotten apples in the hospital’s patriarchal power structure.